For the past nearly 15 years Americans Helping Americans® has been helping people throughout Appalachia see, eat and smile better through our eyeglasses and dental programs, as well as providing them with emergency medical assistance for necessary prescriptions in times of extreme need.
For example, in 2006 we provided funding for a denture assistance program serving the residents of Martin County, Kentucky and Mingo County, West Virginia, for which we received dozens of letters with stories and thanks from those who experienced dramatic improvements in their self-confidence and quality of life.
Our emergency medical assistance program acted as a safety net for people of Appalachia who were working hard just to get by and had nothing left over after paying their bills and putting food on the table to cover the costs related to an emergency illness.
For example, one man in West Virginia told us in 2008 that he had gone without teeth for 30 years before Americans Helping Americans® provided him with a set of dentures.
“I couldn’t ever get enough ahead to get a set of false teeth,” he said.
A woman who received a set of dentures, exclaimed “Praise the Lord! I haven’t had a salad for 15 years.”
But not all of the recipients were elderly.
“I had my teeth taken out when I was 19,” one young man who had had gum disease told us.
“I hadn’t smiled since.”
Throughout the years our emergency medical assistance program provided help to those at among the lowest points in their lives – when they didn’t know how they would pay for the medicines they needed to ease their suffering and make them well.
More recently our focus has been on preventing dental disease in children through our Mighty Molars program helping to ensure they will have their own teeth throughout their lifetimes and never need dentures.
This year alone, we plan on providing 4,000 children in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia with Mighty Molar dental kits which includes six toothbrushes, two tubes of toothpaste and 60 dental floss picks.
In many of the cases, the kits will be distributed by elementary schools which will have dental hygienists give a presentation on the importance of good oral hygiene and instruct them on how to properly brush and floss their teeth.
“Many of our students have told us they do not own a toothbrush,” reported our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, the Lee County Family Resource Center, located in the town’s elementary school.
Our focus has also shifted to providing adults and seniors with eyeglasses as we have found while states such as Tennessee will provide low-income children with eye exams and prescription glasses, such is not the case for adults.
In Tennessee, working with our partner there, Of One Accord, we found out that while Medicaid covers the cost of an eye exam, it does not cover the cost of a pair of prescription eyeglasses.
We have heard instances where men and women were in jeopardy of losing their jobs because they could not pass the eye exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles without the pair of glasses they could not afford.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® over the years we were able to help thousands of our fellow Americans return to health, see clearly and eat the foods they love and no longer be shy about having a big, broad smile for everyone they meet.
This Christmas, 30 students at Beattyville Elementary School in Lee County, Kentucky received the best Christmas present of their young lives – an all-in-one desktop computer – and that number does not take into account their school-age siblings who will also be putting their new computer to good use.
Among them is Lauren who one of the first things she did on her new computer was to write a thank you note to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®: “Thank you for my computer I love it very much. I can use it to do my school work and projects. I use it every day and I love it.”
Sherry Lanham, director of the Lee County Family Resource Center, worked with school staff to determine which of the students would benefit the most from having a computer in their home and told us that Lauren is an excellent student, but her mother could not afford to buy her a computer.
“Lauren will be one child who will probably still have this computer when she enters college,” said Sherry. “She is very thoughtful and caring and takes excellent care of her things.
“Her mom was so pleased to have this opportunity.”
Christopher was another of the fortunate recipients. He lives with his father, but his mother and sister live in another state.
“Christopher is an excellent student,” she told us. “He will be using this for classwork, as well as keeping up with his mom and sister.”
Johnny is a special needs child, his 5-year-old brother Tommy has a severe disability and their parents are the type of people “who are willing to do anything for kids in our community,” says Sherry.
“They are a wonderful family and were so happy with this computer because it will be a great help with the boys,” she told us.
For three years now, Americans Helping Americans® has been working to help bridge the digital divide in the rural, distressed small town of Beattyville.
Kids like Lauren, Christopher, Johnny and Tommy and many others are at a major disadvantage in comparison with their more well-off classmates who have computers and broadband access at home.
Before Christmas, these four children were out of luck when their school was closed during a winter storm and could not email their teacher for assignments and do their homework during what the school calls a NTI (non-traditional instruction) day.
But that was then. With the new year brings new opportunities for these 30 students, their siblings and even their parents who have finally truly arrived in the 21st century thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who are helping us bridge the digital divide one family at a time.
In McDowell County, West Virginia we support an afterschool program operated by our partner there, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA).
But actually, it’s technically incorrect to call it an “afterschool” program since it’s a service BCPIA provides year-round for school children and their parents.
On typical school days, BCPIA offers the opportunity for one-on-one mentoring and homework assistance for dozens of children from the time the final school bell rings for the day until 6:30 p.m.
For the children, that means no wasted afternoons of being alone at home watching TV waiting for their parents to get homework, and for the working parents it means no worries about what their kids are up to during this “free time.”
However, during summer vacation BCPIA operates its “after-school” program from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. helping to ensure that children don’t forget what the learned during the school year and to help them be better prepared for advancing to the next grade level at the start of the new school year.
“Our parents really appreciate what we do for their children,” reported BCPIA co-executive director Marsha Timpson. “If there is no school, they are at risk of going hungry.
“We feed these children full nutritious meals so they are not hungry when they go home.”
Thanks to our supporters, Americans Helping Americans® is able to assist BCPIA in its mission of providing a safe, fun, educational place where children are eager to go to spend their otherwise empty afternoons and summer days and enjoy a free meal as well.
“Our afterschool program is like family and we are glad to be here for our kids,” added Marsha, “even when school is not in session.”
On the first day of school when many teachers ask their students “What did you do this summer?”, thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® nearly 200 low-income children in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee will have quite a tale to tell.
Instead of spending their summer “vacation” whiling away the hours alone and isolated far from their friends in their rural homes, these boys and girls enjoyed fun and games, field trips, developed new friendships and even learned a bit, most likely without even realizing it.
For example, in War, West Virginia dozens of children attended Big Creek People in Action’s Super WHY literacy camps where some preschoolers who didn’t know the alphabet could sing their ABCs at the top of their lungs by the end of the week.
At ABLE Families camps, dozens of more children in Kermit, West Virginia took part in a variety of enriching activities including water safety, cooking, ecology, books, music, drama and more all designed to keep them “thinking, exercising and eating well.”
“There are no other summer camps provided in our area,” reported ABLE Families Executive Director Marlene Spaulding. “The camps we provide give the children an opportunity to broaden their vision to a brighter future.”
That’s what our mission is all about and we are grateful to our supporters and our partners to giving these children hope and a path towards that brighter future.
Hancock County has some of the best people in Tennessee, notes Brian Greene, principal of Hancock County Elementary School in the small town of Sneedville, who adds, however, “we are also a highly depressed area when it comes to jobs.”
“Because there are few jobs in the county, we have a high degree of poverty,” says Principal Greene who sees firsthand every day the strain that places on his students and their parents.
“What we think of as essentials, these families see as luxuries – like having toothbrushes and toothpaste at home.”
But thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, many of his students today have “Mighty Molars” dental kits containing toothbrushes, a six-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss to help them keep their young teeth clean and strong – before it’s too late.
“We see students who have severe toothaches who suffer through the pain because their families don’t have money for dental care,” he reported. “I see a large number of moms and dads who have either rotten or missing teeth.”
Sneedville Elementary students received the Americans Helping Americans® “Mighty Molars” dental kits at a recent back-to-school event, but we know that throughout the school year the need will continue as new students transfer into the school, also in need of basic necessities including toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“Your idea to combat dental problems and improve self-esteem through dental hygiene is one of the best ideas we’ve seen in a long time,” said Principal Greene, adding that all of the school’s teachers have agreed to reinforce good dental hygiene habits to go along with the distribution of the dental kits.
On the morning of August 3, hundreds of Lee County, Kentucky students, and their parents arrived at Beattyville Elementary bright and early to wait in line for the school’s doors to open at 8:30 a.m.
No, it wasn’t for the first day of school just yet, but for its “Readifest” back-to-school event supported by Americans Helping Americans®.
Not only did the students receive backpacks and school kits filled with school supplies, they also received Americans Helping Americans® “MightyMolars” dental kits containing toothbrushes, floss and a six-month supply of toothpaste, as well as a brand-new pair of shoes through our “Barefeet” program.
“Everything was great!” reported Sherry Lanham, director of our partner there the Lee County Family Resource Center who oversees the annual event every year. “The backpacks and dental kits were a big hit.”
At Beattyville Elementary, every child receives breakfast and lunch through the federal free and reduced-price meals program in a community where the need is great.
“We had about 95 percent of our students attend, and the parents and kids were so excited,” she said. “Many told me that if not for this event, their child would not have had school supplies – and certainly not a backpack or shoes.”
On behalf of all of these children, moms and dads, we say thank you to all the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who helped ensure that they will be “ready” for the first day of school just a few days away.