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The Challenges of Home Life

Nestled in the picturesque Appalachian Mountains and steeped in a rich cultural heritage lies Wolfe County, Kentucky.

As is the case for many areas of Appalachia, Wolfe County’s natural beauty belies the abject poverty in which many of its residents live. Wolfe County carries the unfortunate distinction of being one of Kentucky’s most impoverished regions.

As is the case for many areas of Appalachia, Wolfe County’s natural beauty belies the abject poverty in which many of its residents live.

At one time, logging, tourism for nearby mineral springs, and factories employed the majority of this area’s residents. Over time, these industries vanished, leaving ghost towns, unemployment, and high poverty rates in their wake. High dropout rates and adult illiteracy only serve to fuel the cycle of poverty.

“Today, leaders and residents in Wolfe County are working hard to reimagine new opportunities to rebuild the local economy,” explains our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube.

“One area being explored is tourism. Wolfe County is home to the outstanding Red River Gorge, a canyon system in the Red River. The gorge lies within the Daniel Boone National Forest, and it has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a National Archeological District. There are many high sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls, and natural bridges. There is a gorge that is a popular place for rock climbers. A few small businesses have sprung up to support tourists, ranging from those selling supplies to an outstanding pizza restaurant.”

A long way to go

Regardless of the efforts, the county still has a long way to go for real economic development. Since the collapse of the coal industry, many of its families struggle with poverty, hopelessness, and addiction. Sadly, as always, the children are the most vulnerable — including those at our affiliated projects, Wolfe County Middle School and High Schools.

Per the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Center, the county’s average child poverty rate for 2014-2018 was 38%. From 2012 to 2016, it was a wretched 55%. The improvement is not because of the county’s ability to address poverty, but because so many families have moved out in hopes of better opportunities.

Working to support kids in need

Fortunately, the Family Resource Youth Services Center at Wolfe County Middle and High Schools can help children and their families to succeed in school by minimizing or removing non-cognitive barriers to their learning.

Kids in Wolfe County are fortunate to have a volunteer coordinator like Connie to look out for their well-being.

The resource center’s offerings range from Born Learning (for infants and preschoolers) to Back to School Bashes and Ready Fests, to Red Ribbon Week (drug awareness and prevention), to recognizing and responding to violence, and to bringing partners and resources to address the children’s well-being and success.

Children Incorporated is proud to be able to partner with the Family Resource Center in Wolfe County Middle and High School. It is in these places that we hope to help children develop resilience, to graduate from high school, and eventually to break the cycle of poverty by having work that will support themselves and their own families someday,” said Renée.

Getting to meet with Connie

Wolfe County Middle and High School are side-by-side schools, and the Youth Services Centers are both run by our volunteer coordinator, Connie. The total enrollment at the middle and high school is about 600 students. Children Incorporated U.S. Programs Specialist, Shelley Oxenham, visited with Connie recently to find out more how our program is supporting her work.

“I met with Connie at the high school during my last visit to Wolfe County. Connie says she likes our sponsorship program because it helps her kids with clothing, which is very important to middle and high school kids,” expressed Shelley.

“She takes her high school students on a bus to Lexington to shop at Kohls, where the kids can pick out clothes and shoes.  She says it’s an enjoyable experience for them, and she is grateful that she can be so flexible with the program.”

Connie also told Shelley that transportation is a significant barrier for her students; many of them rely on the school bus system to get to and from school. Because of this, these students are unable to participate in any after-school programs, tutoring programs, or extracurricular activities because they do not have a way to get home.

Beyond transportation concerns, the biggest challenge for students at the middle and high school is the home life.

Fortunately, the school has been awarded a grant for the 21st Century after-school program, and part of the grant money will be put towards bus transportation for the students. Per the 21st Century website: “21st Century Community Learning Centers provide essential support to students who are often underserved and offer creative, engaging learning opportunities to kids of all ages and backgrounds.”

An even bigger concern

Beyond transportation concerns, the biggest challenge for students at the middle and high school is the home life. They come to school, and their minds are elsewhere because they are worried about where they will sleep from day to day or worrying about mom or dad being on drugs.

Often there is not enough food in the house, and they come to school hungry and tired after the weekend. Many of the students are living with grandparents or other relatives. A growing number of students are moving into the area because they are in foster care.

These students have grown up in volatile environments and bring a lot of challenges with them to school each day. Often these students act out in school, which can be difficult for the teachers and other students.

Even with all the issues these children face, the high school’s graduation rate is very high, and that is thanks to a dedicated and caring staff and administration at the high school.

If a student is failing several classes, they can take online courses or attend one on one classes at an extension campus to graduate.

“Connie is hoping that with the new after-school program, the graduation rate will be even better. After graduation, some students will attend college while others attend technical college or transition to work,” said Shelley.

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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.

Caring for a Generation of Students

Marie Roberts Elementary School is located in the small community of Lost Creek, Kentucky, in Breathitt County.

In a part of the country where 48.3% of children are living in poverty, the Family Resource Center at the school, and our volunteer coordinator, Jackie, are able to offer children the critical support they need to survive in difficult circumstances.

“Jackie is the original coordinator who brought our sponsorship program to the school many years ago. She has been a loving and stable presence for easily a generation of students,” explained Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube.

“With her students, Jackie is very warm, and they feel comforted and loved in her presence.”

Good news for children in need

While visiting with Jackie at Marie Roberts, Renée had a chance to hear more about how Jackie, and our sponsors, are helping some of the most vulnerable kids in Lost Creek.

“Jackie said her job is about removing as many barriers as she can to her students’ academic potential and well-being. The barriers are all related, in one way or another, to the high child poverty rate,” said Renée.

“Jackie shared with me information from studies that show when children grow up in impoverished households, they tend to have worse health than children in better economic situations. Their education is also negatively impacted. Poverty can even affect their income attainment into adulthood as well.”

An exterior photo of Marie Roberts Elementary School

But it wasn’t all bad news that Jackie had for Renée. During their meeting, they discussed the heartening news that recent research has supported the theory that positive sustained relationships with caring adults can buffer childhood trauma and the toxic stress they feel from growing up in a difficult environment.

“Not only are school staff like Jackie able to be that caring adult for children, so are Children Incorporated sponsor[s]. Having someone in their lives who cares for them and provides some financial support, but also some emotional support through correspondence – often over a period of years – is powerful,” said Renée.

Helping kids with their stress

Related to the trauma and stress many of the children endure, Jackie shared the school is now very fortunate to have two counselors from Mountain Comprehensive Care Centers which is part of the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities. They began working at Marie Roberts Elementary during the 2018-2019 School Year and have had a huge impact on the children. They provide assessment, counseling, and referrals in a convenient and familiar location — the school. This also helps with access barriers, as so many families lack reliable transportation.

Before she left, Renée and Jackie discussed the Family Resource Center’s needs, and right away Jackie said shoes.

“She explained that the kids grow so quickly, and shoes are so expensive. Many families can afford only the cheapest flip flops or slides from the Dollar Store, and Jackie is always looking for deals on name-brand, sturdy shoes,” said Renée.

“Thankfully, our sponsors and our Shoes and Socks Fund have also been able to provide funds for Jackie to purchase quality shoes for kids that will last.”

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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.

Moms Helping in Our Schools

Located in rural and mountainous eastern Kentucky, Breathitt County is one of the 100 poorest counties in the United States.  The economic prospects of Breathitt County are, at best, bleak. The coal mining industry that once dominated this area and provided employment for the majority of its population has been declining.

Children here not only struggle with lack of basic needs, such as food, clothing, and school supplies, but they are also often in dire need of encouragement and positive interaction with adults.

Today, there are few job opportunities for the area: three small factories, a community college, a grocery store, a department store, a small medical center, a juvenile detention center, and the county education system. Many families who once relied upon mining jobs for income now depend upon part-time employment at minimum wages or federal assistance such as welfare checks and food stamps.

Tragically, drug and alcohol abuse are common, both stemming from and further contributing to these difficult socioeconomic circumstances. Children here, therefore, not only struggle with lack of basic needs, such as food, clothing, and school supplies, but they are also often in dire need of encouragement and positive interaction with adults. Many of them lack positive role models who can teach them how to maintain strong moral values and to be and have friends of good character and caliber.

A loving and supportive volunteer coordinator

Thankfully, children at Sebastian Elementary School have our volunteer coordinator, Genevieve, at the school’s Family Resource Center.

“Genevieve is a caring and dedicated staff member who is thrilled to partner with Children Incorporated sponsors to better equip students with the basic essentials and offer them a  positive influence,” said Renée Kube, our Director of U.S. Programs.

Renée is pictured with one of our sponsored children.

“It is always a pleasure and a treat to spend time Genevieve when I visit Breathitt County. She is another very long-serving coordinator and was the one who brought our organization to her school in 2004. She always goes above and beyond for her students.”

Parents lending a helping hand

During her most recent meeting at Sebastian Elementary School, Genevieve introduced Renée to her parent assistant, Jennifer.

“Jennifer is a wonderful help to Genevieve — and of course to our sponsorship program,” said Renée.

“She is the fourth assistant Genevieve has worked with through a program that places mothers in part-time employment at the school. Each of the previous mothers with whom Genevieve has worked has gone on to regular, full-time employment, in part thanks to the experience they got working at the Family Resource Center. Genevieve is very proud of them,” explained Renée.

“It’s an amazing program — mothers get to help children in our sponsorship program that are in need, and in exchange, can work towards helping to get their own families out of poverty. It’s a win-win situation.”

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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.

The Heart of Small Community

Located in rural and mountainous eastern Kentucky, Letcher County is best known for its natural beauty, as evidenced by small but growing efforts to promote the county as a tourist destination in recent years. One especially breathtaking site is the Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve in the town of Eolia. The park comprises over 2,600 acres of trails, waterfalls, and mountain vistas, boasting one of the highest concentrations of rare or endangered species in Kentucky.

“The school’s caring and dedicated staff are thrilled to partner with Children Incorporated sponsors to better equip students with the basic essentials and well-rounded education they need and deserve,” explained our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube.

The breathtaking beauty of this land, however, belies the hardships that its residents face each day.  As with many towns in the area, the community of Eolia traces its roots back to the coalmining industry, which sustained this once-thriving region for generations. With the decline of the mining industry, however, employment opportunities here have plummeted, and poverty rates have soared.

Many families have moved away in search of job opportunities, but a resilient few have stayed, working hard to revitalize their community despite hardship. Daily survival here is a struggle, and children feel it perhaps most keenly. In fact, the childhood poverty rate here currently hovers at a staggering 32%.

For these reasons, our affiliated project, Arlie Boggs Elementary/Middle School, not only offers hope and a sense of security to children and families in need, but in so many ways is the heart of this small, close-knit community.

Meeting Sandy

The Family Resource Center is able to offer so much support for families in need in Letcher County. 

“The school’s caring and dedicated staff are thrilled to partner with Children Incorporated sponsors to better equip students with the basic essentials and well-rounded education they need and deserve,” explained our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube.

“The coordinator, Sandy, is a dynamo of energy and enthusiasm. She is so proud of the kids. Sandy shared her two favorite school academic initiatives are essentially band and business. All students are required to learn a musical instrument starting in fifth grade. From sixth through eighth grade, the students may participate in band.”

Learning about Small Business

Another initiative that the school has implemented is the EntreEd Program. According to their website, “[a]s the future of work continues to evolve, EntreEd instills entrepreneurial mindsets in every student, every year to forge a more entrepreneurial America.”

Arlie Boggs has partnered with EntreEd thanks to an entrepreneurship grant. Business concepts are taught to children at every grade level in the school. The older students learn to develop business plans and launch their small businesses — and keep their profits. The program runs from August through October, culminating in a school fair to which their families are invited. Sandy says that examples of small businesses that students have launched included creating temporary tattoos, making cotton candy, designing custom tee shirts,  making wreaths and jewelry, and dress design.

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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 Large Space with Ample Supplies

Blackey, Kentucky is proud of its distinction as a place where part of the movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, was filmed. Once a bustling mining town with its own coal company, Blackey was devastated by floods and fires in the late 1920s. Even more tragically, during the Great Depression, the little community’s bank failed, and Blackey never regained its glory years.

“Michele has taken maximum advantage of her space. Every square inch is packed with materials and supplies for children — including those in our sponsorship program.” 

Lots of basic needs items for kids

Letcher Elementary School serves children from kindergarten through fifth grade. The school feeds into another Children Incorporated affiliated project, Letcher Middle School, which is attached to one end of the elementary school. Although the schools are on the same campus, they operate separately.

“Our volunteer coordinator and the school’s Family Resource Center Coordinator, Michele, is fortunate to have a large physical resource center, which is not usually the case in schools in Kentucky,” explains Renée Kube, our Director of U.S. Programs.

We are grateful for our sponsors who make it possible for us to support children at Letcher Elementary School.

“Michele has taken maximum advantage of her space. Every square inch is packed with materials and supplies for children — including those in our sponsorship program.” 

A community with a big heart

During a visit to the school, Michele told Renée that Letcher Elementary and Middle Schools are fortunate to be located in Blackey, which is a small town with a big heart. The community members are very driven to help each other, and the city administrators offer many public places for residents to learn.

“Blackey has a tiny public library in town and a community center that is open to adults and children. The community center offers workshops in practical things like sewing and also activities like painting and handicrafts,” said Renée.

“It is wonderful that the community has a gathering place where people can come together to have fun and support one another emotionally and physically.”

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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.

Young Parents Struggling to Get By

Located in rural and mountainous Letcher County, the community of Blackey, Kentucky has deep roots in the coal mining industry.

In 1912, just four years after the town’s founding, the Lexington and Eastern Railroad ran a line through Blackey, quickly transforming the mountain hamlet into a booming, modern town.

Tragically, Blackey’s prosperity proved short-lived, as the late 1920s ushered in a series of disasters: a flash flood of the North Fork Kentucky River devastated the city, killing 26 residents; just months later, a fire destroyed much of the city’s business district; and finally, the Great Depression struck.

Today, the town is home to a small but resilient population, that works hard to revitalize the community despite hardship.

Today, the town is home to a small but resilient population, that works hard to revitalize the community despite hardship. Daily survival here is a struggle, and children feel it perhaps most keenly. The depressed economy and the lack of employment make it difficult for families to provide even basic needs and school supplies, a problem compounded by the fact that many youths in the area are foster children or are being raised by grandparents.

Administrators that care

At our affiliated project, Letcher Middle School, a caring and dedicated staff partners with Children Incorporated sponsors to provide students with basic essentials that we so often take for granted but that are vital to success in both school and life.

Lynn works hard to provide for children in our sponsorship program.

The Family Resource Youth Services Center Coordinator and our volunteer coordinator at Letcher Middle, Lynn, was formerly a coordinator at West Whitesburg and Cowan Elementary Schools.

“Lynn was one of the first two coordinators in Letcher County to affiliate with Children Incorporated, and over the years has become very familiar with our program,” said Renée Kube, our Director of U.S. Programs.

“While meeting with Lynn, she told me that the Letcher community has a lot of young parents who are struggling to make ends meet. They often don’t have enough money to buy enough food for their families. For that reason, she is very grateful to work with us so she can provide school supplies, clothes, and food for [children] in need.”

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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.