Bath County, Kentucky is known historically for the mineral and medicinal springs from which its name was derived. Unlike many other counties in Eastern Kentucky, Bath County is not a coal-producing area, and the main cash crop there used to be tobacco. This crop provided small farmers with a decent living with the help of the federal Tobacco Price Support Program, in which the government purchased surplus tobacco from farmers to ensure a yearly income for them.

Children are in need of food on the weekends.

A photo of the food pantry at Bath County High School

When the Tobacco Price Support Program ended in 2004, small farmers were no longer secure supporting their families by farming tobacco, so they began to seek out other work opportunities. As a result, most tobacco farmers in the county switched to raising cattle, which does not require nearly as many laborers as tobacco farming does, so many jobs were still lost.

Unfortunately, the loss of farming jobs in Bath County isn’t the only thing that negatively affected the local economy there. Most of Cave Run Lake, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1973, is located in Bath County – another potential source of income for families could come from tourist dollars generated by use of the lake; but all of the boat ramps, marinas, small restaurants, and gas stations around it are nestled on either the Rowan County side or on the Menifee County side. A path that was bulldozed on the Bath County side of the lake shows the start of construction; but many years after it was first blazed, subsequent work has yet to be done – and even Bath County residents have to leave the county to access the lake.

When parents aren’t being parents

On a recent trip to Bath County, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, visited the only high school in the county, Bath County High School. Sitting on a large complex, the school has 589 students in grades nine through twelve. 74 percent of those students qualify for free breakfast and lunch every day, which is a reflection of great poverty in the county. One in five Bath County citizens are living in poverty; and 29 percent of the children there are living below the poverty line.

“Sponsors give these teens hope and a window into a bigger world,” said Cindy. “The clothing and shoes received through sponsorship funds give these kids a sense of dignity and pride. “

When Renée arrived at the school, she met Cindy, our Volunteer Coordinator, in the school’s Resource Center, along with Cindy’s assistant, Sandy. Both Cindy and Sandy work very hard to help the children in their care to get basic needs, as many of them come from neglectful households. Cindy told Renée that she thinks the children are having to grow up too fast – some of them have to fend for themselves completely.

Their parents or guardians are absent from their lives in different ways – sometimes physically, sometimes mentally or emotionally. In some cases, they are away from the home a lot, working minimal-income jobs; in some instances, they are disabled and unable to do much to support their children. Some caretakers, tragically, due to a serious drug problem in Bath County, aren’t looking after their kids as a result of their addictions. Last year alone, there were fourteen overdoses of parents of Bath County High School students.

According to Cindy, many of these families can’t even begin to imagine another way of life for themselves, and they teach their children to think no other life is possible for them, either. This fostering of this negative mentality is one of the many reasons why Cindy and Sandy value the Children Incorporated program as much as they do. “Sponsors give these teens hope and a window into a bigger world,” said Cindy. “The clothing and shoes received through sponsorship funds give these kids a sense of dignity and pride. Being sponsored is encouraging for the students to stay in school and achieve their diplomas.”

It is important for these impoverished kids that Cindy and Sandy see the value in our program, and what sponsorship does for those children. When teens live in poverty, but are expected to get their schoolwork done and take care of themselves with little to no support from family, it is invaluable for them to have sponsors. It helps them to not feel alone, and to receive the positive motivation they need to keep working hard, so that they can have better lives once they graduate.

Going above and beyond for kids

Sponsorship helps children in Kentucky.

Renée and Cindy in the Resource Center

Cindy and Sandy do more than just help kids in our program receive basic needs – they also do a lot to prepare them for being on their own, as many of them practically already are. There is a washer and dryer in the Resource Center for the students to use to wash their own clothes, because many of their parents don’t do it for them. There is also a shower for the kids to use to clean up when they don’t have a usable shower at home.

Cindy also takes the students that she feels need extra attention on field trips, because she knows that many of them never leave their homes other than to go to school. She takes groups to a ropes course at Morehead State University for team building. She also takes some to a cosmetologist for haircuts and conversations about appearing professional for job interviews. She takes some teens to a restaurant – for some students, for the first time in their lives – where they can practice table manners.

It’s hard to think about what these children have to endure while they are still so young, with little to no guidance at home. Even before they graduate, some Bath County High School students are kicked out of their homes when they turn eighteen years old, because at that age, their parents stop receiving welfare checks with which to support them.

Now homeless, those kids go to school hungry and desperate. Thankfully, however, each school year, Cindy and Sandy help these scared and overwhelmed teens move into tiny public housing apartments, and they teach them to apply for welfare in their own names, so that they may receive that assistance until they graduate from high school; and our sponsors are there to provide additional support for these kids who are forced to grow up too fast when they really need it the most.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN KENTUCKY?

You can sponsor a child in Kentucky in one of two ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members, or email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org.