Most parents are familiar with the ubiquitous school-supply shopping list: two boxes of crayons, nine jumbo pink erasers, 47 glue sticks, one box of tissues, three boxes of markers…

But when your kids run out of pencils halfway through the year, you just buy more. When the backpack inevitably falls apart by January, you buy a new one.

DSCF2039In Eastern Kentucky, few have that luxury. As we hand out school supplies for Children Incorporated’s back-to-school program, we’re faced with a distressing reality: these are the only school supplies most of these kids will get this year.

If the backpack breaks, there won’t be another one. If they outgrow the shoes, they’ll wear too-tight shoes until (hopefully) they get another pair next September. If they run out of tampons, deodorant, toothpaste…

All of those hygiene items are issues too for the middle-schoolers and teenagers. For the youngest school children, it’s pants, leggings, and underwear. For whatever reason, the underprivileged children have more than the usual number of accidents so extra clothes are a must.

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Hand-me-downs

The extra clothes aren’t always new, of course. Almost nothing here is new except for what comes from Children Incorporated. School resource coordinators and guidance counselors collect hand-me-downs from the community; but in most of the schools here, Children Incorporated is the only major benefactor.

Over the last 15 years, we’ve put between $125,000 and $150,000 into each school here for our sponsored children and the tough reality is that it’s never enough. For every child we give a bag of brand new school supplies, there’s another in the same classroom who gets nothing.

Back-to-school season is somewhat like Christmas here. It’s the time of year when donors shower kids with new shoes, clothes, notebooks, backpacks, pens, pencils, and markers. But for children not enrolled in our program, much of it will be gone and the school resource coordinators will be scrounging in their supply closets for a hand-me-down pair of shoes to trade for the too-small ones they’re wearing.

Middle school is the age when they start to realize the truth about why they don’t get new clothes or school supplies when other kids do

The luckiest children have ongoing sponsors who keep them supplied. James, a fifth-grader at one our affiliate schools, gets clothes, school supplies and stuffed animals from his sponsor, Vicki. He told us that Vicki sends him letters asking for what he wants and then sends him gifts. He’s a happy kid who wants to be a farmer and who loves his animals – especially his pig, which he mimics for us.

James and the other sponsored children have fortunately received funds from Children Incorporated through the years and they need it badly. Of the 350 or so children enrolled here now, many more would qualify to receive help from Children Incorporated.

Bad times at home

One of the kids who is getting help is Brian, who lives with his five siblings. His stepfather is in jail and his mother is in rehab so their grandmother takes care of them. Brian knows where his parents are but doesn’t seem to get yet that the reason he’s in worn-out clothes and never has quite enough to eat is because his parents didn’t come through for him.

Over at Morgan County Middle School, resource coordinator Donna told us that the elementary children generally don’t understand that yet.

“Middle school is the age when they start to realize the truth about why they don’t get new clothes or school supplies when other kids do — because the reality is their family doesn’t have the money, maybe because their mom and dad bought alcohol or something else,” she said.

Two of the kids that Donna helps are Billy and Dennis. The two boys had been living in a small trailer with six adults but then their parents divorced and their father was killed in a car crash. Now, they live in a trailer with their mom. The family is living on food stamps, which keeps them fed but doesn’t cover the bills or clothes, hygiene items or school supplies.

DSCF2085What they and most of these kids need, Donna said, isn’t just physical help but emotional support. They need to be told that they’re doing well and trying hard and that they can succeed – it’s not something they often hear at home.

For many of these kids, school is the safest place to be and the place where they are ensured a full meal and attentive adults who are devoted to their wellbeing.

“I am always ready for school to start back after the summer because I worry about these children when they are not in school,” Donna said. “A lot of them don’t have a safe place to be.”

For the holidays and weekends, Children Incorporated students get food packs to take home with them – cans of SpaghettiOs and chicken noodle soup and other easy-make food to ensure they’re getting fed something.

A BRIGHTER FUTURE 

And yet even here, there is a way out.

At Morgan County High School, as many as 70 percent of the 600 students may go on to some type of higher education.

Caroline is one of them. A junior at Morgan County High, she’s already getting nursing certifications and is planning to finish her nursing education at Pikesville University after she graduates. Caroline’s coordinator said her home situation is bad but that Caroline’s determination and the Children Incorporated clothes and supplies she’s been receiving over the years have enabled her to always look good and walk with confidence.

“I am always ready for school to start back after the summer because I worry about these children when they are not in school,” Donna said. “A lot of them don’t have a safe place to be.”

Another one is Barrett, who’s had the same Children Incorporated sponsor since he was in kindergarten. He’s a senior now and he’s hoping to go to college to study computers or engineering and to one day move to Lexington and buy a house and a truck. It could very well happen – his older sister is already in college at nearby Morehead State.

He’ll finish school in June and be off to college, leaving a spot open for another Children Incorporated kid. For every kid we send off successfully, there’s another one waiting for help.

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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 and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org.