Founded in 1878, Leslie County lies nestled in the rural foothills of Kentucky’s Eastern Coalfield region. Despite its wealth of natural beauty and proud history, this region suffers from widespread poverty and deprivation. Once bolstered by the area’s booming coal and lumber industries, the county’s economy is now deteriorating.
Between 2013 and 2015 alone, Leslie County suffered a loss of 700 coal-mining jobs, with no foreseeable recovery in the coal industry. The resulting unemployment left county residents in a state of crisis. New job development is all but nonexistent, due to this region’s remoteness, inaccessibility, and small population.
Moreover, a widespread lack of education among the residents exacerbates the problem. The county has a 63 percent high school graduation rate, and only seven percent of residents aged 25 and older there hold a Bachelor’s degree. Amid the staggering economic and societal problems facing this area of Kentucky, Leslie County High School provides the opportunity and hope students need to help them escape the cycle of poverty.
Not enough students to fill the school
While visiting Leslie County, our U.S. Projects Specialist, Shelley Oxenham, met with Lesley, our volunteer coordinator at Leslie County High School. Lesley explained to Shelley that, although the school itself is housed in a very large building, enrollment has been steadily dwindling.
At the time of their meeting, 485 students were enrolled at the school – which has the capacity to serve 1,000. Lesley told Shelley that in her first year as our coordinator there, there were 900 students in attendance; but because of the trend of students graduating, going off to college, and not returning to Leslie County because there are no jobs there, the population in the area has decreased year after year.
During her time at the school’s resource center, Shelley had the opportunity to meet a special sponsored student named Rebecca*. Lesley has known Rebecca, who is now a senior in high school, since she was a toddler. Rebecca lives with her father, who is a loving and involved parent, but is unemployed due to a disability; so he struggles to provide for himself and Rebecca with the meager benefits he receives.
Each year, businesses in Leslie County partner with the Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) at the school to ensure that every student that wants to attend prom may do so, and can look and feel their best while they’re there.
Even though her father doesn’t have money for much outside of paying bills and buying food, Rebecca was still able to attend her high school prom, thanks in large part to the support of the local community.
A prom to remember
Each year, businesses in Leslie County partner with the Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) at the school to ensure that every student that wants to attend prom may do so, and can look and feel their best while they’re there. A boutique in town donates prom dresses and suits for students to wear, and a beauty shop sets up at the school so that students can have their hair and makeup done.
On the day of prom, Rebecca’s dad took her to school at 10:00 a.m. so that she could pick out a dress and start getting ready. During the entire day, and into the night, her father sat outside in the car in the parking lot until prom was over at 10:00 p.m. When Rebecca told Shelley and Lesley this, Lesley asked Rebecca why her dad had stayed at school instead of going home. Rebecca told them it was because he didn’t have enough gas to go home and return to pick her up – so he decided to just wait for her while she was inside enjoying her special day.
Thanks to her sponsor
Before their meeting was over, Rebecca told Shelley that her sponsor helps her mostly with clothes, which she really appreciates. Rebecca loves having nice, new clothes to wear, because it makes her feel good about herself. She also told Shelley that she plans to attend Hazard Community and Technical College after graduation, and obtain a degree in nursing. Currently, Rebecca holds an after-school volunteer position at a local nonprofit coffee shop. When she starts taking college classes, however, she wants to start working at a local nursing home to gain experience in the field as she simultaneously takes the required courses.
*Named changed for the individual’s protection.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.