Tag Archives: donors

Grandparents As Parents

Bevins Elementary School lies in the easternmost region of Kentucky, in beautiful Pike County. This area was once a prosperous and thriving one, when its coal and timber industries were booming. The mountain passes and rugged terrain, while suitable for mining and logging, have effectively blocked other types of industries from settling in this part of the state. Thus, as mines closed, those who had spent their lives working underground could not find new employment opportunities above.

Thankfully for the students of Bevins Elementary School, the faculty there not only strive to provide a safe learning environment, but they also work to support grandparents who have found themselves raising kids again – but as seniors this time.

Today, poverty plagues this region, and adults are not the only ones experiencing the debilitating impact of its effects. Thankfully for the students of Bevins Elementary School, the faculty there not only strive to provide a safe learning environment, but they also work to support grandparents who have found themselves raising kids again – but as seniors this time.

A passionate coordinator

On a recent trip to Eastern Kentucky, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, visited with the Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) coordinator at Bevins Elementary School, Sandy, who is also our Volunteer Coordinator. The school is located in a very small community called Sidney, west of Belfry. With an enrollment of only 227 children, the school is one of the smallest schools in the Belfry district.

Upon meeting Sandy, Renée observed that she takes a great deal of pride in her job. Her excellent work is demonstrated in her dedication to further aiding the children she serves through our programs. In fact, last year, Sandy was nominated by her principal as a contender for the Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ annual Fred Award. The award – inspired by Fred Shea, the postman who is the subject of Mark Sanborn’s national bestseller, The Fred Factor – recognizes non-administrative staff, students, and volunteers statewide whose daily efforts are deemed extraordinary and integral to a positive learning atmosphere in their school communities.

We support children in need in Eastern Kentucky.

Renée pictured with one of our sponsored children at Bevins Elementary School

Sandy is impassioned by FRYSC’s work to remove the “non-cognitive barriers” to children’s success in school by providing them with clothes, shoes, school supplies, and hygiene items throughout the academic year. She also works closely with the other coordinators in the middle and high schools in the Belfry district to collaborate on outreach efforts between older and younger siblings in the same families.

This is in order to ensure that all children are receiving the basic needs that are so important to their academic success. When it comes to working with our sponsored and unsponsored children, Sandy explained to Renée, her primary focus is always to obtain clothing and shoes, as well as school supplies. Sandy considers each child’s individualized personal needs upon selecting her purchases.

Training for grandparents

As Sandy discussed how she would like to see the resource center develop, Renée learned about a county program to be launched by FRYSC coordinators this school year called Grandparents As Parents (GAP) – a program for which financial assistance is greatly needed. There is a high percentage of grandparents and great-grandparents raising children in Pike County, sometimes due to parents passing, and other times because parents are incapable of caring for their own children as a result of problems with drug abuse. Many require support with regard to issues such as recognizing the signs of bullying; training on how to monitor kids’ social media use; and how to utilize technology for themselves for job training, and to check online for academic performance and behavior notes for the children in their care. The workshops will also touch on budgeting, and proper sleep and nutrition; and attendees will be provided with literature for reference.

After listening to Sandy speak so passionately about helping these grandparents – many of whom are living in poverty, and never expected to be raising their grandchildren – Renée informed Sandy that Children Incorporated would be happy to provide funding for this special program through our Hope In Action Fund. This fund is maintained for instances just as this. Now Sandy can rest assured that grandparents in her community will receive the support they need to raise their grandchildren to be the most successful students they can be.



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.

25 Years in Pike County

Recently, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, and our U.S. Projects Specialist, Shelley Oxenham, visited one of our longest-standing and most stable partnerships – the Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) of Pike County in Kentucky. Children Incorporated began our outreach in Kentucky not long after the founding of our organization in 1964. At that time, our program was in only one county in the state: Menifee. Unfortunately, when our volunteer coordinator in Menifee County retired a few years later, no one was able to step in and take her place; so that project site was reluctantly closed.

In order to continue helping children in need in the Appalachian Region of the United States, one of our staff members at the time, Dorothy Carver, went to our founder, Mrs. Jeanne Clarke Wood, with an interesting proposal: her husband was relocating for work from Richmond, Virginia, where our headquarters was located at the time, to North Carolina. Mrs. Carver offered to reinstate our Appalachian Division with a focus in western North Carolina, where extreme poverty was rampant. Mrs. Wood agreed; once Mrs. Carver relocated to North Carolina, she began traveling regularly, steadily expanding our sponsorship program in the state.

Today, Children Incorporated is affiliated with all seventeen public schools in Pike County, which is the easternmost and largest county in North Carolina.

A Breakfast for Champions

In 1990, when Mrs. Carver retired, our Appalachian Division consisted of 32 projects in western North Carolina. Her assistant, Irene LeCroy, took her place as the new Appalachian Division Director. Mrs. LeCroy worked hard to continue to expand our work with impoverished children and their families. She wanted Children Incorporated to acquire affiliations in Kentucky, as well as move into West Virginia. It was she who first learned of Kentucky’s newly-developed Family Resource and Youth Services Center. Thanks to Mrs. LeCroy, our first re-affiliations since the early 1970s were in Pike County, Kentucky. The first was Kimper Elementary School in March of 1993 – and more and more were added over the years.

Today, Children Incorporated is affiliated with all seventeen public schools in Pike County, which is the easternmost and largest county in Kentucky, encompassing 788 square miles. It has a rugged mountainous terrain, with narrow river valleys and great scenic beauty. However, the continuing decline of the coal industry has yielded high rates of unemployment; underemployment; and rural out-migration, in which families are forced to leave their homes in search of steady work elsewhere. The county’s child poverty rate is 29 percent – and twelve percent of those kids live in deep poverty, in which their families’ incomes are less than half the poverty threshold.

We are incredibly grateful for our coordinators in Pike County, who work hard every day to ensure children’s needs are met.

Since this year marks Children Incorporated’s 25th anniversary of our work in Pike County, Renée and Shelley decided to start their week-long trip of visits to our affiliated schools in the area with a breakfast meeting to acknowledge the FRYSC coordinators, who also serve as our volunteer coordinators. Renée and Shelley invited all seventeen coordinators, as well as Mr. Robert Osborne, who is the Director of Federal Programs for the Pike County Board of Education, and who supervises our coordinators there.

Renée and Shelley hosted a fun breakfast, getting all the coordinators together to reminisce about how Children Incorporated sponsors and donors have facilitated their work helping kids in Eastern Kentucky over the years. Renée and Shelley also made it a point to express their gratitude to the coordinators for dedicating so much time and effort to ensuring that their students benefit fully from their sponsors’ crucial support.



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.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Since I first started visiting our affiliated projects in Eastern Kentucky in April of 2015, I have been reporting on the burden of poverty that our sponsored children and their families face every day. With a lack of jobs and scarcity of resources for people in need in this region of the United States, I often get asked when I return home: Why don’t people in need just move somewhere else?

It is a question that I had not been able to answer on my own, because quite honestly, I didn’t know how to answer it. When your situation seems bleak, and there are few opportunities for a better future for you and your children, why not leave and start over in a new place?

Feeding kids hundreds of miles away

Boxes of food line the walls of the resource center.

I decided to talk to our Volunteer Coordinator, Barbara Hall, at Blaine Elementary School in Lawrence County about this issue. I knew Barbara would be able to shine some light on the subject; she has been working in the school system for 23 years, and has been a resource coordinator since 2000. Currently, Barbara plays an integral role in ensuring that students are fed every day, in addition to her many other responsibilities.

200 children attend Blaine Elementary School in Blaine, Kentucky, and 85 to 95 percent of those kids are receiving reduced price or free lunches. There are currently 79 children receiving food to take home on the weekends through the school’s backpack feeding program. Barbara explained that without the help of a church in Alabama that supports her school, she wouldn’t be able to help all these children.

The church not only raises money to provide food for the students, but they also do all the shopping – and they even drive eight hours to Blaine Elementary School once a month to distribute the food. Barbara is incredibly grateful for this support; she said that there are very few businesses in Blaine to sponsor food and clothing drives for poor families. Without this church, she doesn’t know how she would ever help so many children who would otherwise not be able to eat on the weekends.

The children most in need of sponsors are the ones that come to school dirty, with worn out clothes and old shoes, and providing them with new items is something they really value.


Through Barbara’s story, it was apparent that she knows very well the hardships that families living in poverty face here – especially the children in our program. She said that the children most in need of sponsors are the ones that come to school dirty, with worn out clothes and old shoes, and that providing them with new items is something they really value.

When I asked her the tough question about why families have stayed in Eastern Kentucky long after the coal mines closed, businesses started to move out, and stores closed down, she said that in actuality, many families have left to look for jobs elsewhere. But a lot of people haven’t moved away, and it was for more reasons than I could have come up with on my own.

The many reasons not to move

For many families, the simple answer is that they have nowhere else to go. They have no relatives outside of Eastern Kentucky, and everyone they know lives near them. Another reason families don’t move is because they are comfortable where they are and with their current surroundings, and the idea of making a big change in life is overwhelming, because it is easier to stay in an already familiar place. And even though they may not have much beyond a small piece of land and an old trailer in which to live, these families, despite being poor, have a great deal of pride in what little they have. It was something with which I could empathize greatly, as I, too, am proud of my home.

Our Volunteer Coordinator, Barbara, and U.S. Projects Specialist, Shelley Oxenham at Blaine Elemenatry School

Another reason many families don’t move is because moving is too expensive. Jobs aren’t guaranteed anywhere, and neither is housing. I had heard the day before from our coordinators LuAnn Kelly and Anne Preece, who also work in Lawrence County, that many parents travel as far as South Carolina and North Carolina to work, and return home only on the weekends. Others drive a few hours each day to commute to jobs within the state. Those who don’t drive out of the county for work have settled for jobs that would typically be for high school students, like at fast food restaurants, to support their families.

It all started to make more sense. Why would you move your kids away from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, and have them change schools, when you can’t be sure the next place would even offer anything better?

Come to find out, the answer to my question was complex; not only did it have many practical implications, but it had a lot of heart to it, too. Whether living in poverty or not, moving isn’t easy, and it’s not something that just anyone can do. Even if resources are scarce, some families in Lawrence County can count on the support of coordinators like Barbara, and programs like our sponsorship program and the backpack feeding program.

Beyond that, Kentucky is home for these families, no matter what changes around them. Whether businesses move in or out of the county, and as industry comes and goes – it doesn’t make Kentucky any less of a home and a place to be proud of for its residents.



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

Repairing a Smile and Self-esteem

A student in Kentucky receives dental care

It goes without saying that our Hope In Action Fund, which allows Children Incorporated to provide for sponsored children and their families in emergency and special circumstances, comes to the rescue quite often. Whether funds go to purchasing cleaning supplies after families have been affected by flooding, or to replacing a pair of eyeglasses when a child falls and breaks them on the playground, Hope In Action is such an important part of how Children Incorporated helps beyond sponsorship.

When Renée Kube, our Director of U.S. Programs, was first informed about a particular situation that involved Robert, one of our sponsored children in Eastern Kentucky, she immediately felt touched and called to act. Robert had lost four teeth in an accident in elementary school, and years later – now a high school freshman in a new school – he was still without those teeth.

Hearing Robert’s Story

Robert met his new Children Incorporated Volunteer Coordinator, Rhonda Moore, for the first time as an incoming freshman student last fall. Rhonda was just getting to know the children who had moved up from the elementary school – it’s a big adjustment to receive all the information about the new sponsored children at the school, and it’s a big responsibility to help them adjust their new academic environment.

Robert’s story was not a first for Kube, who has been working with Children Incorporated for over 32 years now.

Luckily, thanks to our partnering organization in Kentucky, the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, coordinators just like Rhonda are used to the heavy workload, and they recognize just how important it is to pay attention to each and every child’s special needs – which is exactly what Rhonda did with Robert.

Dental Care_UK Ronald McDonald Care Mobile 2

The Ronald McDonald Dental Care Van of Kentucky

Robert’s elementary school coordinator had been especially close to him, and when she spoke with Rhonda at the beginning of the school year, she expressed that she had a special place in her heart for him. She shared some information about his life at home – and most importantly, about the degree of need that he experiences.

Robert lives with his single father; they had been renting a trailer, but could no longer afford it, and had to move to a very small apartment. Robert’s father is disabled, and his limited disability benefits hardly pay the rent. The father has no transportation, and sometimes struggles to provide food. Furthermore, it wasn’t just the details of his home life that she wanted to share with Rhonda; she also felt it was important to mention that Robert was really self-conscious about his appearance.

She explained that, at some point during elementary school, Robert’s four front teeth had been knocked out, and he was desperately in need of a dental partial plate. At the time of the injury, a dentist had been able to help him recover from losing his teeth. Later, the dentist made an impression for a bridge, which was covered by Robert’s medical insurance – but the insurance does not cover partials or dentures.

When Robert’s father was told the cost of the partial plate, he told the dentist he couldn’t afford it. Years later, when Robert reached high school, he was still without some of his teeth – and he was unwilling to smile or talk to teachers or other students directly, because he was so embarrassed.


U.S. Programs Specialist Shelley Oxenham brings hygiene items, including toothbrushes and toothpaste, to students in Kentucky

And it wasn’t just a matter of self-esteem that concerned his elementary school – and now high school – coordinators; his missing teeth were also a health concern. Not restoring missing teeth can lead to several issues down the road. Chewing is obviously affected, but bone loss is especially a worry; when teeth are present and functioning, bone is maintained; so missing teeth can eventually lead to bone loss.

Dental Issues in Eastern Kentucky

Robert’s story was not a first for Kube, who has been working with Children Incorporated for over 32 years now. “I have heard stories from coordinators about their worries for kids with poor oral health, and about their efforts to bring help – and to encourage available services to be used,” she said.

“I have heard stories from coordinators about their worries for kids with poor oral health, and about their efforts to bring help – and to encourage available services to be used,” she said.

“And it is not just specific to Eastern Kentucky; I would say poor oral health is spread across our country wherever poverty exists. I’ve seen it with urban kids, as well as rural – the combination of cheap soda and a lack of knowledge about brushing, and no access to regular, new toothbrushes and toothpaste play a part,” she continued.

Over the years, there have been a few opportunities for Children Incorporated to help with the occasional specific dental need, such as removing an abscessed tooth. But as Kube says, generally, the coordinators have reached out within their own communities to bring free dental vans sponsored by universities.

 A few months after hearing about Robert’s special situation, Kube spoke with Rhonda to see what Robert might like for Christmas. Rhonda told Kube that when she asked him about gifts for the holiday, his response was, “I’ve not had a Christmas at my house in so long, I try not to think of it anymore.”


But thanks to Robert’s wonderful sponsor, for Christmas, he did receive needed items and gifts from the monthly subsidy funds; and Rhonda also included him in another holiday donation from a local church. He had a wonderful Christmas, thanks to these special gifts – but his coordinator still felt that it was important to address his self-consciousness over his appearance, and she really thought that he would have more confidence if he could get his partial plate, and start using it right away.

harley c.2Shortly after winter break was over and the children were back in school, Rhonda reached out to Kube, and asked if Robert could be considered for assistance from the Hope In Action Fund to replace his missing teeth.

Looking Like a Brand New Kid

Kube didn’t waste any time working on the request. By February, just one month after the request had been made, Rhonda received the funds needed to purchase Robert’s dental plate, and she ordered it for him immediately.

Once his plate was ready, Rhonda took pictures of Robert with his new teeth to share with Kube and the Children Incorporated staff, and to also share with his sponsor. Robert showed off his new teeth for the camera with a new plate taking the place of the gaping hole that he had spent so many years trying to hide. Thanks to the Hope In Action Fund, Robert finally has something to smile about.



You can sponsor a child in Kentucky by calling our office and speaking with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381.

The Road Ahead: Catching Up with On the Road’s Shelley Callahan

Around this time last year, Children Incorporated’s Director of Development, Shelley Callahan, and Director of International Programs, Luis Bourdet, boarded a plane and set off on the first of many adventures together, On the Road. Side by side, the two traveled to dozens of projects around the globe, from as far away as Ethiopia, to as close to home as Kentucky.

The idea was simple: give readers a first-hand look at the impact of child sponsorship. “The day-to-day life in these towns is always a story of triumph over adversity,” Shelley had said. “We want our readers to have a front-row seat on our trips so they can see first-hand how Children Incorporated partnerships work on the ground.”


Luis and Shelley on their first trip together to Bolivia

The duo is preparing for several more trips in 2017. We caught up with Shelley to get her perspective on the series one year later – and to find out where On the Road will take us this year.

CI: It’s been a year since you and Luis first took readers “On the Road” to visit Children Incorporated projects in Bolivia. What is most memorable to you about that trip, and why?

SC: Going to Bolivia was my first international trip with Children Incorporated, and it really opened my eyes to the work we do. As the Director of Development, I understand how important it is to provide basic needs to our sponsored children, and I am aware of the impact that our sponsors and donors have on our children and their families, but seeing it firsthand in La Paz and in Santa Cruz was really life-changing for me.

Also, getting to see a larger, long-term project come to fruition was beyond amazing. Luis and I were invited to participate in the inauguration of the addition to the Montero School, which had been under construction for more than six months. Thanks to the support of Children Incorporated sponsors, the school now has enough classrooms to teach hundreds of children on a daily basis. We got to celebrate with the community there, and we stuck around to see the children try out their new classrooms. The sheer joy and excitement was extremely moving.

That’s precisely why we are doing this – to show what one person can do. It’s really something to witness, and I’m honored to share it with our readers.

We traveled all over Bolivia, and met so many incredible people, including Carla, a woman who graduated from an affiliate program of ours in La Paz. Carla was abandoned by her parents when they left Bolivia in search of work. She was raised by her grandmother, who struggled to support her granddaughter on meager earnings from the produce she sold at the local market.

With support from her sponsor, and under the guidance of our volunteer coordinator, Josefina, Carla successfully graduated from the Pedro Poveda School.

Now Carla is in college and working to save money to build a house. She lives with her husband, and they have a daughter together. And she still stays in touch with her sponsor after all these years! It was such a testament to the power of what one person can do, and just how a seemingly-small gesture, like donating $30 a month to a child, can be life-changing.

CI: Why did Children Incorporated decide to launch the On the Road series in the first place?

SC: We launched On the Road to bring our sponsors and donors along with us in order to show them the impact their contributions are making on children all over the world.

We could never have anticipated the reaction we had from our readers. I’ve heard many times over the past year that people really do feel as though they went on a trip with me – whether it was to South America, Africa, or in the U.S.

That’s precisely why we are doing this – to show what one person can do. It’s really something to witness, and I’m honored to share it with our readers.

CI: Has anything surprised you along the way?

SC: There are always lots of surprises when you travel, but what really amazes me is how this experience has helped develop my relationship with our donors. People comment all the time on the pictures we share and on the stories we tell about our travels around the globe. It’s really wonderful to share these experiences with our donors.


Luis with Carla, her daughter, and our coordinator, Josefina, in La Paz, Bolivia

CI: You started in Bolivia, and went on to cover site visits in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Mexico – and even in the U.S. Which was the most challenging? Which was the most rewarding?

SC: This is a hard question, because every country is different, and every project is different, too! But I have to admit that visiting the slums of Dandora and Pumwani in Kenya was especially difficult. Site visits can be physically and emotionally draining at times. Long days of traveling to projects, having meetings, and interviewing children and their families already requires a great deal of stamina, but when you see the conditions the children live in, and you so desperately want more for them in life, it takes a toll.

Of course, out of the toughest challenges are the greatest rewards. In the bleakest of environments, I’ve seen up-close how sponsorship is making an impact. Most of the children we serve abroad would not be able to attend school if it weren’t for their sponsorship through Children Incorporated – it simply wouldn’t be possible. In many cases, school is the only safe haven available to these children. And in the U.S., sponsorship helps in ways that are so important. For example, there are children in Kentucky who are going to school in literally broken flip flops in the middle of the winter, with no coat – and they’re going home on the weekends to a house with no food. Sponsorship keeps those children warm and fed.

CI: Is there a place you wish you could have stayed longer? Why?


Luis with sponsored children in Kenya

SC: I think I could have stayed in all of these places longer, because our coordinators are so welcoming and grateful for what Children Incorporated is able to do because of our donors. I have felt at home visiting all of our sites. But it would have been really cool to stay in Ethiopia longer, because we had provided some funds to help our affiliate project Kids Hope start a large garden to be maintained by the older sponsored children, to teach them and to provide food for the project – and I would have loved to have seen them get that going. They have since sent pictures, and it looked like everyone was having a lot of fun!

Of course, out of the toughest challenges are the greatest rewards. In the bleakest of environments, I’ve seen up-close how sponsorship is making an impact.

CI: Of all the On the Road stories you published last year, which is your favorite? Why?

SC: Tough question! One particular story that stood out is “Two Wheels and the Wind in Your Hair,” about the sponsor who donated bikes to children in Eastern Kentucky. It was so impactful because I got to be a part of so much of it – connecting with Claudette Gurley of New Hampshire, who had raised the money to purchase the bikes in memory of a friend who had passed away; actually going to Walmart and purchasing the bikes; presenting the bikes to the kids; and then meeting their parents when we dropped the bikes off at their houses. It was all very moving – to see the excitement on the faces of the children. I will never forget one of the boys saying, “I don’t know her (about the donor), but tell her I love her!”

CI: You’ve traveled extensively all over the globe for many years. How many stamps are in your passport?!  But seriously, what’s your best advice to those who want to travel off the beaten path?

SC:  I’ve been fortunate to have been able to see so much of the world. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting nearly thirty foreign countries in my lifetime. I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel with Children Incorporated, and to see firsthand the impact of sponsorship in the lives of the children we serve.

My best advice for any traveler is to have an open mind. Accept whatever comes your way, and respect all cultures and traditions, even if your natural reaction is to try to do things the way you are accustomed to at home. It’s always good to ask questions of everyone you meet – on the airplane, your host, someone who works at a local store. You will find out the best, most interesting information about a country from the locals, and you will hear the most fascinating stories from nationals. It is the only way to get a real, full idea of what life is like in a foreign country. And don’t forget to write it all down! Sharing stories is the way to make the greatest impact – if we tell others stories, we can help change the lives of others in need, just like On the Road tries to do.

Sharing stories is the way to make the greatest impact – if we tell others stories, we can help change the lives of others in need, just like On the Road tries to do.

CI: Did you bring home any souvenirs from the places you visited? What were they and why are they special?

SC: The best souvenirs are the ones that our volunteer coordinators or the children’s families give me, because they are personal and thoughtful. I have to say that the most moving gift I received was hand-painted tablecloths from the mothers of sponsored children at the Montero Home in Bolivia. They took hours to paint beautiful flowers on the tablecloths, which we would see in homes in Bolivia. It is hard to accept gifts from families that are in need, because they could sell them for money instead of give them to me; but it is the most heartwarming gesture, and a gift that will always remind me of these special people whom I have had the privilege of meeting and spending time with.

CI: You are gearing up for more travels soon. Where will you take readers in 2017?

SC: I will be in Costa Rica in May, visiting the La Milagrosa Center, the Costa Rica Center, and the Santa Luisa Center; and we will be distributing shoes to the children there, which is very exciting. On the same trip, I will also visit our projects in Nicaragua, which include the La Recoleccion Home and the Casa Betania Welfare Center – both homes where we support children living in poverty.

In July, Luis and I will be visiting projects in both Sri Lanka and India. We are currently trying to partner with another non-profit organization to take water filters to our children and their families in some of the schools we work with in Hyderabad, India, which is so important. Closer to the end of the year, we will be visiting projects in the Philippines – the details are yet to be determined, but in the past, Luis has taken eyeglasses with him to provide additional support for children and their parents.

Creative Solutions to Food Insecurity in the Navajo Nation

At first glance, it would seem like the Navajo community in the Arizona high desert has little in common with the inner city neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.

Both areas though, are food deserts, where residents can’t buy produce or other healthy foods because there aren’t any to be found.

page-schools-5In Washington, D.C. and other major U.S. cities, food deserts are located in low-income areas. There are no grocery stores there – just corner markets where residents can buy potato chips or soft drinks, or maybe canned soup – but not fruits or vegetables.

If you’ve got a car, you can drive a few miles to a grocery store outside of the city – but many inner city residents don’t have cars; or the time and mobility required to take public transit out for a shopping trip; or the wherewithal to carry more than a single bag of groceries on the bus or train.

In Arizona, it’s both different and the same. Within much of the Navajo Nation, the only places to buy food are convenience stores. Like the corner stores of Washington, D.C., they sell snacks and often cheese fries, but no produce.

“There aren’t enough full-service grocery stores that serve fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Navajo families usually have cars or trucks, but in Arizona, the nearest grocery store isn’t a couple of miles away – it’s more like 60 miles away.

So just as in D.C., the poorer families of Arizona live on Hot Pockets and canned pasta, potato chips and Coke, and other quick snacks bought from quick-stop stores.

“There are too many transportation barriers to accessing nutritious food,” said Renée Kube, Director of U.S. Programs for Children Incorporated. “There aren’t enough full-service grocery stores that serve fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Solving the Problem

pinon-scenesIn Washington, D.C., Children Incorporated has been solving the problem by launching farmers’ markets in the schools. The Joyful Food Market is a partnership program between Children Incorporated and local non-profit Martha’s Table, which allows families to shop for fresh produce just as at any other farmers’ market.

The only difference is that at the Joyful Food Market, everything is free. Families are allotted specific portions of each item, and they can walk through the aisles themselves to select what they want. Children are allowed to do the shopping, too; some parents can’t get to the market after school, so volunteers help the children shop for their entire families.

The Joyful Food Market approach doesn’t work in rural Arizona though, partly because so many of the children live at school rather than at home.

So Children Incorporated volunteers are taking a different approach there.

Out West

The Navajo Nation consists of 25,000 square miles of land, but no real cities. Flagstaff, Page, Albuquerque, Farmington, and Durango are all well outside of the Navajo Nation, and each requires a long drive across bad roads in order to get there.

Inside the Navajo Nation, Children Incorporated works in several schools, helping provide students and their families with clothes, shoes, hygiene items, and school supplies – plus, of course, healthy food.

Kube visited the Navajo Nation schools last October with Shelley Oxenham, Children Incorporated’s U.S. Project Specialist. Together, they discussed with volunteer coordinators the different needs and programs at each school.

pinon-community-school-18What the schools have in common is that most of their students are poor. Many don’t live with their parents, because their parents aren’t in the picture at all, or because their parents have taken work in remote locations. Children live with other relatives or at school; and while most aren’t starving, they suffer from food insecurity, poor nutrition, and a lack of money for basic necessities.

Gardens in the Desert

Teachers and volunteer coordinators at the Navajo schools focus on academics, as well as on life skills and health. To meet their goals, several schools have implemented gardening programs.

The Saint Michaels Association for Special Education provides education and care for children who are mentally or physically disabled. The school has built a handicap-accessible garden with paths and plant beds built for easy access by students in wheelchairs.

The idea, Kube said, is to add nutritious food to the children’s diets whenever possible, and also to give the children hands-on experience working in the garden and helping to make plants grow. The children raise houseplants and flowers in addition to vegetables, which the cafeteria staff prepares for student meals.

st-michaels-3There aren’t a lot of crops that grow well in the desert, but corn, beans, and squash – collectively referred to as the “three sisters” – do well, and when planted together, help one another to grow. They are at the center of Native American cooking traditions, and are grown in school programs and at home by the children’s families.

Pinon Community School is another Navajo school served by Children Incorporated. George Tso, the residential hall manager at the school, helps the students perpetuate their cultural heritage by working with local elders to teach them traditional Navajo skills, such as weaving, butchering meat, and building sweat lodges.

And, of course, raising crops.

“They’re growing corn, cilantro, habanero peppers, strawberries, squash, and tomatoes,” said Oxenham. “They also have two beehives set up with bees to pollinate the plants.”

Challenged by Geography

st-michaels-4Rocky Ridge Boarding School is one of the most rural in the area, accessible only by dirt roads on the border between the Navajo and Hopi Nations. Most of the students at Rocky Ridge are day students, but some stay at school all week. (Many of the Navajo schools have boarding options, generally because families live too far away, and the dirt roads become nearly impassable during the rainy season.)

Rocky Ridge is trying to implement a garden plan that children can replicate at home. Instead of building a large greenhouse or a huge school-wide garden, school administrators envision little garden plots that are easy for children to build themselves. That way, Oxenham said, they can build their own gardens at home using the skills they learn at school.

But there’s a hitch. Many Navajo families have no running water, and some have no electricity – so otherwise simple tasks become difficult.

“Gardens need to be built with a wind break; otherwise, the plants often cannot survive,” Oxenham said. “They’re working out how to do this and how to fund it.”

“Many families haul water, so there is a lack of excess water to be used for things like gardens, which, in such a dry climate, would require a lot of water,” she said.

Then there’s the wind.

“Gardens need to be built with a wind break; otherwise, the plants often cannot survive,” Oxenham said. “They’re working out how to do this and how to fund it.”

Healthy Eating for Life

It’s all part of a greater effort to get nutritious food, rather than just any food, to the nation’s poorest children.

“The matter of adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to people’s diets has come to the forefront,” Kube said. “Interest is growing amongst the coordinators, and it’s an area we have identified as one for current and future Hope in Action Fund proposals.”



You can sponsor a child in Arizona by calling our office and speaking with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381 or by emailing us at sponsorship@childrenincorporated.org.