Tag Archives: children

A Conversation with Mary Wilson

My mother’s sister operated a record store in our small hometown of Reidsville, North Carolina. During my childhood in the 1960s, I spent a great deal of time there. While other little boys were outside climbing trees, swinging bats and getting into mischief, I was inside spinning records. Music was everything to me, and while I was a huge Beatlemaniac, my favorite music of all was that of The Supremes — Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson.

The Supremes’ classic 1964 album, “Where Did Our Love Go,” was actually the first long-playing record I ever owned, and as I listened to it over and over and over again, I grew to deeply love The Supremes. Though Diana Ross sang most of the lead vocals and was the most visible of the ladies, my favorite Supreme was always Mary Wilson.

“I am coming to see that Children Incorporated is a loving organization.”

– Mary Wilson

In 2016, in my role as President and Chief Executive Officer of Children Incorporated, I decided to write to Ms. Wilson to ask her to support our work. Over the years, I had read about her charitable giving, and I knew that she had been appointed a United States Culture Connect Ambassador by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ms. Wilson had traveled all around the globe promoting peace initiatives, and her work to remove remaining landmines from war-torn countries inspired me.

With these things in mind, I sent her a lengthy letter filling her in on the incredible and life-changing work of Children Incorporated. Ms. Wilson responded a few months later and said that she would love to help out as her busy scheduled allowed. We corresponded back and forth a number of times over the following year until late 2017, when Ms. Wilson decided to sponsor a little girl through our organization.

A CONVERSATION WITH MS. WILSON

Mrs. Wilson’s third book, “Supreme Glamour”, was published in September 2019.

A few months back, Ms. Wilson was scheduled to be in Detroit to attend an event. She contacted me before that visit to ask if she could meet the child she was then sponsoring in the Detroit area. The Children Incorporated staff and I were pleased to make Ms. Wilson’s wish to meet the child become a reality.

I met Ms. Wilson in Detroit and escorted her to a struggling school in the heart of the motor city. There, she interacted warmly with her sponsored child and members of the highly-dedicated school staff. I watched as Ms. Wilson encouraged the little girl to take her education seriously and to always strive for more. The big smile on the girl’s face said it all. She had connected with her sponsor, the Supreme Ms. Mary Wilson — and Ms. Wilson with her.

Following the visit, Ms. Wilson asked me if I could take her to her favorite coffee shop before she had to return to her hotel and prepare for an afternoon radio interview. I was honored to do so as I was in the presence of not only a loving and kind person, but also Motown Royalty! During our time together, we discussed many things — her long career, her history of supporting charitable causes, her children and mine — and I had the chance to share more details about Children Incorporated with her. I will never forget my magical day with Ms. Wilson.

The following are some of the highlights from our conversation:

Ron: Ms. Wilson, you have supported a number of charities over the years. How did you first get involved in doing charitable work? What led you to want to support these types of groups?

Ms. Wilson: After having traveled the world in the ‘60s, I had seen a lot of third world countries where poverty was just too much to bear. It was easy to see that here in America we have it pretty good — even with all of our problems. I guess the reason I chose to sponsor a child is because I had so many things going on, including my career and my own big family. I even adopted my little cousin, Willie. Sponsorship was a way that I could give back and be a part of a child’s life. I could see that there were so many children who were not getting the love and care they needed. I decided to sponsor a child in the Philippines, and that lasted until she graduated from high school.

Ron: You’re still fairly new to Children Incorporated. What are your first impressions of our organization? Why did you agree to support our work?

Ms. Wilson: I am coming to see that Children Incorporated is a loving organization. I saw that very early on when you made a great effort to arrange our meeting today. You are very passionate, Ron, about your work, and you reached out to help me become acquainted with the Children Incorporated sponsorship program on several occasions. So far, I have only met a few of the others who are part of the team — like the women who serve as your volunteers at the school. But everyone seems to be very passionate about the work. It is not just about getting a paycheck. You all seem to have a real passion for helping children.

Ron: That’s true, and I think that is what makes Children Incorporated so special.  The work is personal. Our goal is always to improve the lives of children, and I know that is also a passion of yours.

Ms. Wilson: I always look for organizations that help children. You’re right — that is a passion of mine.

Ron: A few years back, former Secretary of State Colin Powell recognized you as a Cultural Ambassador for the United States. I’m sure that was an incredible honor.

Ms. Wilson currently sponsors a child in our program from Richmond, Virginia.

Ms. Wilson: Yes! What an honor it was for me to become a Cultural Ambassador for the United States! Through another organization that I was supporting, I met a woman named Patricia Harris in Washington, D.C. Ms. Harris suggested to Secretary of State Powell that I become part of his program under President George W. Bush — and that is how I was appointed one of the Cultural Ambassadors. Then I traveled around the world, working as an ambassador for peace. It was an incredible honor and a wonderful experience!

Ron: You’ve had a very long and fruitful career. Looking back, what — off the top of your head — are a few of the highlights or things that were especially meaningful to you?

Ms. Wilson: I am a truly blessed person. Coming from very humble beginnings and truly living the “American Dream” of becoming a star has been most gratifying. The Supremes did some great things in our career. Being on the Ed Sullivan Show fifteen times was one of them. We also gave command performances for the royal family in Great Britain. Along the way, we were inducted into various halls of fame. And of course, having all those number-one records around the world was one the biggest thrills of all! Oh, and there is also a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Ron: Two years back, you had a top-twenty hit, “Time to Move On,” on the Billboard Dance chart. It must have been very affirming to see yourself on the charts after so many years.

Ms. Wilson: The music industry has changed so much over the years. I am one of the lucky ones to still be performing after fifty years. Getting a record onto the charts today is not easy. The charts today are made up of a very young generation of singers. Even though we were also young people when we were having our hits, there were a lot of different styles of music out back then. More people got a chance to have hits. It isn’t that way now. Digital downloads and music subscriptions have also taken a big toll on how people share their music. I was very lucky to get a top-twenty hit, and I hope to follow it up with another one. I’ve been in the studio doing some recording, and will hopefully have some product out soon.

“After having traveled the world in the ‘60s, I had seen a lot of third world countries where poverty was just too much to bare. It was easy to see that here in America we have it pretty good — even with all of our problems.”

Ron: You have worked tirelessly to keep The Supremes’ legacy alive. You’ve helped with archival record releases, and I understand you are now working on a new book about the group.

Ms. Wilson: Yes, some have said that I have been the keeper of The Supremes’ legacy — but I also want people to know that I do not live in the past. I have many new projects going on. Presently, I am working on another book that will come out soon. I want to thank all of the fans who have stood by our music throughout the years. They must know how very much they are appreciated by me, and I am sure by Diane (Diana Ross) as well. Flo (Florence Ballard) would feel the same gratitude if she were still alive.

Ron: You’ve said many times that people should dare to dream — that dreams do come true — and you’ve certainly seen some of your dreams become reality. Are there other things you still wish to accomplish — dreams you have yet to see realized?

Ms. Wilson: There are a couple of issues that I am very passionate about. I, as well as many others in the music industry, have worked on the CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, & Important Contributions to Society) Act bill. This deals with records made prior to 1972. Artists who recorded their hits prior to then haven’t gotten paid when their records are played on the air. This is so unfair. Much of the greatest music was recorded in the years prior to 1972, and those songs are still played on the radio all the time, yet the artists weren’t being paid.  The bill was finally signed into law in October 2018. I am also continuing to work on the Truth in Music Advertising bill. This one deals with the fact that there are many bogus groups on the road now, claiming to be originals when, in fact, none of the members are original. People go to see a group they loved in the 1960s or 1970s, for example, yet what they get is not the original group. I have been working on this for many years, and I recently addressed Congress about this very important matter.

Ron: Ms. Wilson, do you have any final words of encouragement for your sponsored child?

Ms. Wilson: Again, I just wish her happiness. I want her to have hope, and I want her to dream of possibilities. I want her to know that there are good people in this world who care about others and are willing to help out when help is needed. Children Incorporated is like that, and I am very proud to be part of this organization!

Footnote:  Ms. Wilson currently sponsors a little girl from Richmond, Virginia.  Her third book, “Supreme Glamour” was published in September 2019, the same month that she debuted as a contestant on the ABC television series, “Dancing With The Stars.”  At 75 years young, Mary Wilson continues to tour and perform to fans around the world. She is an inspiration to many who have followed her career for the going on six decades.

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A State of the Art School

Wayne County lies nestled amid the vast natural beauty of the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia and is home to the small town of Crum.

In recent years, mining companies have been forced to lay off workers or shut down altogether, and unemployment in this region has risen dramatically.

Crum was once a bustling community with a vibrant economy, bolstered by the now-struggling coal mining industry. In recent years, mining companies have been forced to lay off workers or shut down altogether, and unemployment in this region has risen dramatically.

Like many small towns in this rural part of West Virginia, Crum is quite remote, affording very few job opportunities and necessitating long commutes to even a decent grocery store. Residents who choose to stay here — where their families have lived for generations — often live well below the poverty line and face unspeakable struggles.

Escaping the realities of poverty

Students at Crum PreK-8 School enjoy their newly-renovated school building.

Yet despite the adversity they face, Crum’s residents are hearty and resilient. Our affiliated project, Crum PreK-8 School, serves as a testament to their fortitude.

Crum PreK-8 School offers children a place where they can just be kids and escape the overwhelming stress of poverty. Students receive support, encouragement and nutritious meals each and every day. They are also provided with a well-rounded education in a brand new, state of the art building.

Visiting the new school

On a recent visit, Director of U.S. Programs Renée Kube was able to see the new school for herself.

“The renovation had been greatly needed for many years. It replaces the very old buildings and the new school is something that the whole community can be proud of,” said Renée.

According to the School’s website, students, parents and faculty do have a lot to be proud of:

“The new Crum PreK-8 School School replaces two existing facilities, Crum Elementary and Crum Middle Schools, that have been in disrepair and lacking the spaces and technology required for 21st century learning skills. The total enrollment for the school is 356 students. The new grade configuration separated the elementary students from the middle school students, but still allows the use of the common spaces within the building. They share the dining room, gymnasium, media center and stage.

“The main entrance is accentuated with large steel trusses that form a vaulted wood ceiling that continues through the main corridor. Highlighting the façade is black brick with a glazed yellow brick accent and a stone wall memorializing the historic stone façade from the existing school.”

Only the best for students in West Virginia

Renée felt confident that due to the combination of the support they were receiving from their sponsors and the new facility, sponsored students were enjoying the best care possible in one of the nicest schools she has ever seen.

The list of improvements continues:

“The new school is more energy-efficient than the previous facility. It also is easily maintained with its polished concrete floors throughout the school. The gymnasium is located for ease of public access but can be divided for simultaneous use by elementary and middle school classes.”

“The academic areas have easy access to the advanced media center. Each classroom has several student computer locations and a teacher location. In addition to the typical classrooms, there are science classrooms and labs, teacher planning areas and separate administrative areas for elementary and middle school. The new facility is home to a vocational agriculture classroom/lab with an attached greenhouse.”

Renée was very impressed by everything she saw at the school. She felt confident that due to the combination of the support they were receiving from their sponsors and the new facility, sponsored students were enjoying the best care possible in one of the nicest schools she has ever seen.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN WEST VIRGINIA?

 You can sponsor a child in West Virginia 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.

A Small School with a Family Atmosphere

Jones Fork Elementary School — which began as a one-room schoolhouse and was expanded in 1964 to accommodate more children — is located in Knott County, Kentucky in the small community of Mousie.

Deb mentioned to Renée how proud she is of her students doing well in school despite their impoverished backgrounds and how willing they are to help fellow students as though they were all one big family.

The smallest school in the county, Jones Fork educates just 165 children in grades kindergarten through eight. According to our volunteer coordinator at the school, Deb, children at Jones Fork have above average test scores. Deb attributes this to what she calls a “family atmosphere” at the school. Teachers encourage children’s academic growth, and students even help each other out when they can — especially when times are tough.

Rising test scores and self-esteem

On a recent trip to Knott County, our Director of U.S. Programs Renée Kube met with Deb at the Jones Fork Elementary School’s Family Resource Center. Deb said she feels that support from our sponsors plays a big role in children getting the attention they need and making them feel like equals with their peers. She says it helps with their self-esteem and makes them want to work harder in class. In fact, test scores at the school have risen for the past few years in a row, showing the students progress.

Students at Jones Fork Elementary School support one another in a family-like manner.

As they continued to talk, Deb explained to Renée that the community around Jones Fork Elementary used to be bustling with mining jobs, but is now hurting. The population is in decline, and many families feel hopeless about the future. The poverty is harsh. The closing of the last local mine about ten years ago had a ripple effect — soon afterward both the local gas station and grocery store were forced to close. Last year students set up and ran a food pantry to help their classmates. Deb mentioned to Renée how proud she is of her students doing well in school despite their impoverished backgrounds and how willing they are to help fellow students as though they were all one big family.

Meeting Laura

Test scores at the school have risen for the past few years in a row, showing the students progress.

During her visit, Renée had the chance to meet Laura*, a young student enrolled in our program.

When she and Renée met, Laura was holding a greeting card she had just received from her sponsor. According to Deb, Laura loves being in our program. She loves her school supplies and nice clothes. She told Renée that having a sponsor is “the best!”.

Before she left, Deb told Renée that Laura is one of two girls in her family. Both parents work part-time as school bus drivers, and their wages are low. Without a sponsor, Laura would go without a lot of things she needs to keep her comfortable and doing her best in school.

*Name changed to protect the child.

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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.

A Decline in Enrollment

Emmalena Elementary School is located on State Highway 550 in the western part of Knott County, Kentucky just west of the community of Clear Creek.

“The community of Clear Creek was the site of a 1970s women’s occupation and protest against strip and surface mining, especially the practice that allowed coal operators to tear up private land to reach underground minerals,” explains Renée Kube, Children Incorporated’s Director of U.S. Programs.

Renée is pictured with one of our sponsored children at Emmalena Elementary School.

“Some small, independent operators had opened mines, made quick profits, and then left, leaving the community to cope with damaged land and polluted water.”

“Today the community feels loyalty to the operators who ran good mines but still mourns the loss of good jobs while hoping and looking ahead to the future,” said Renée.

Leaving home to find work

On a trip to Knott County to visit our affiliated project Emmalena Elementary, Renée met with our volunteer coordinator at the school, Pam.

Pam told Renée that because of the mine closures, parents were forced to leave Clear Creek to find work outside of town. As a result, the school had shown a significant decline in enrollment in recent years.

Of those parents who were able to stay in Clear Creek, some found jobs in the county seat or by commuting to Hazard for work daily. Others are self-employed at a variety of work from fixing cars to cutting wood.

Unfortunately, many of these jobs are low-paying, and the community has a high poverty rate — 89% of students receive free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program.

Pam feels fortunate to have other additional resources to help her find inexpensive items for the many children at her school that are living in poverty.

Shopping for kids in need

Emmalena Elementary School educates 196 children from kindergarten to eighth grade. During their meeting, Pam told Renée that she likes to take advantage of Back-to-School sales in July at stores in nearby Hazard so that she can maximize the number of clothes, shoes, book bags and school supplies she can purchase with funds provided by our sponsors.

Pam makes another big shopping trip in December for winter clothing including warm outfits, coats and snow boots for sponsored children who would otherwise go without these important items in the cold winter months.

Pam feels fortunate to have other additional resources to help her find inexpensive items for the many children at her school that are living in poverty. One such resource is the Christian Appalachian Project, a warehouse of free overstock, discontinued or imperfect merchandise offered at a low cost. She also works collaboratively with the county extension service and health department.

Thanks to their sponsors, children receive items such as clothing, school supplies and book bags.

Gratitude for our sponsors

During her visit, Pam arranged for Renée to meet a mom of two children in our program, Lydia.*  Lydia is a teacher’s aide at Emmalena Elementary School. Her husband is disabled, and they are both hard-pressed to provide for their kids.

“Lydia expressed to me how grateful she was for the help she receives from her children’s sponsors. It makes a massive difference for the whole family,” said Renée.

Renée  also meet a special boy named Michael.* Michael was enrolled in our program last May and is still unsponsored. He is in first grade and likes science.

Michael, his sister and his brother are being raised by their grandmother, who is a homemaker. She is raising them on a limited amount of public assistance that includes kinship care, which gives aid to people who are raising related children, keeping them out of the foster care system.

“Michael’s siblings are currently sponsored through our program. Michael is hoping that he will also have the opportunity to have a sponsor soon because he realizes how much it helps his grandmother and his whole family,” said Renée.

*Names changed to protect the individuals.

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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.

Wishing for Work

Knott County Central High School is located in the small town of Hindman, Kentucky and is the only high school in all of Knott County. Built in 1974, the high school has been well maintained over the years, serving 622 students in grades nine through twelve.

Administrators and teachers at Knott County Central High work hard to help encourage students to pursue higher education.

While students’ scores are above state standardized test averages, there is still concern among administrators when it comes to college and career readiness. Overall, the school is below the state average in some key measures such as access to advanced classes or availability of help to prepare students for college entrance tests.

Kids in need

On a visit to Knott County Central High School, Children Incorporated Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, met with our volunteer coordinator, Karen, to talk about the many issues that students at the school face — especially those living in poverty.

“Karen said her students have many needs. It is challenging enough to transition through puberty and adolescence to young adulthood, and the added burden of coming from impoverished households makes their situations even more difficult,” said Renée.

“Many of the teens would love after-school jobs to help their families, but there are few opportunities. There are more jobs in the city of Hazard, but it’s a half-hour away, and most of these teens don’t have cars of their own.”

“Many of the teens would love after-school jobs to help their families, but there are few opportunities. There are more jobs in the city of Hazard, but it’s a half hour away, and most of these teens don’t have cars of their own.”

-Renée Kube

Finding creative ways to shop

As they continued their conversation, Karen told Renée about how she manages the Children Incorporated program to ensure that sponsor funds are providing students with exactly what they need throughout the school year.

“A few years ago, Karen used to have the sponsored students and their families go to a few stores in Hazard that would allow them to shop and then hold the clothes for Karen to pick up later,” Renée explained.

“Last school year she tried that system twice, but it did not work well because a lot of parents don’t have transportation or the time to get to the store.”

“The following year, Karen was able to get the principal’s permission to take a school bus field trip to Walmart with students,” said Renée.

“The kids enjoyed it, and participation was very high. She now has gone back to meeting the parents and students at a local Walmart so the kids can continue to choose their clothes, shoes and school supplies that are just right for them.”

Getting to know Victoria

Renée with Victoria at Knott County High School

Renée also had a chance to meet with a special sponsored child at Knott County High during her visit. Victoria* has had the same sponsor since she was in the 5th grade. Her father is unemployed, and her mother is taking college classes in the hopes of improving their economic situation in the future.

Money for Victoria’s family has been — and still is — very tight. Karen shared with Renée that after Back-to-School time last year, the family experienced a fire and lost many items in their home. Thanks to her sponsor and additional donations from our Hope in Action Fund, Karen was able to make sure that Victoria had everything she needed to start the school year with everything she needed.

*Name changed to protect the child.

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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.

Working with a Shoestring Budget

The small town of Grayson is located in Carter County, Kentucky and is home to Heritage Elementary School — Children Incorporated’s only affiliated project in this Appalachian county.

Missie sorts through donations in the Resource Center.

In the 19th century, Carter County was famous for its iron furnaces and thriving clay products industry. Carter Cave — now a tourist attraction — was a significant source of saltpeter during the War of 1812.

Coal from this region once fueled factories, powered locomotives and heated millions of homes. Today, however, manufacturing only accounts for 15% of the county’s employment. Moreover, the coal industry, which once employed the majority of the region’s workforce, has sharply declined due to automation and the increased use of other fuels.

A county in distress

Designated by the Appalachian Regional Commission as a distressed county, Carter County currently has an unemployment rate well above the national average and a low median household income. The lack of employment opportunities has resulted in widespread poverty, along with associated socioeconomic issues such as drug abuse, lack of education and poor health.

In an area menaced continuously by the devastating effects of poverty, Heritage Elementary School — and our volunteer coordinator, Missie — provide children with a safe and supportive place to learn and grow.

In an area menaced continuously by the devastating effects of poverty, Heritage Elementary School — and our volunteer coordinator, Missie — provide children with a safe and supportive place to learn and grow. They do this despite working with only a shoestring budget.

A dedicated coordinator

While visiting Heritage Elementary School, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, met with Missie to talk about how her efforts are helping sponsored and unsponsored kids in our program.

“Missie is well-organized when it comes to her work with the Children Incorporated sponsorship program. She hopes to enroll more children in the near future because she knows she can handle the workload,” said Renée.

Missie told Renée that she shops at various stores — sometimes having to travel as far as 30 miles — to find the best deals so she can make the most of sponsor’s donations. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have much to work with at all since she has a minimal budget with which to run the school’s Family Resource Center.

Looking for help on the outside

The Resource Center accepts donations from different partnering organizations in Carter County.

In order to help children outside of our sponsorship program, Missie raises funds and seek in-kind donations from a variety of partners in town such as local businesses. She also makes and sells t-shirts whose proceeds go to the school’s Weekend Backpack Feeding Program. Thankfully, our sponsors alleviate much of her stress. Missie loves the peace of mind that sponsorship funds give her. Thanks to our sponsors, she always knows that kids in our program will receive basic needs regularly.

Before their meeting ended, Missie mentioned to Renée that she would like to put in a request to our Hope in Action Fund. Missie wants to develop and implement a summer camp so children can get additional help with math and reading as well as participate in enrichment activities like arts and crafts. Not surprised by her dedication and willingness to go above and beyond for kids at Heritage Elementary School, Renée looks forward to receiving Missie’s request since our Hope in Action Fund was designed for situations just as this one.

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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.