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Insufficient Food for Growing Kids

As the name suggests, Cannonsburg Elementary is located in the isolated and rural town of Cannonsburg, Kentucky in Boyd County. Like many of Kentucky’s Eastern Coal Field communities, Cannonsburg has suffered dramatically from the decline of the coal mining industry.

At the height of the coal operations, Boyd County was an essential and active port city for the transport of coal along the Ohio River. Today, many of its residents live in abject poverty. Illiteracy and high dropout rates are significant problems in this area.

Ruth and Renée in Cannonsburg Elementary School’s Resource Center

Fortunately for children living in Boyd County, Cannonsburg Elementary School provides them with a beautiful and bright learning space and a welcome distraction from the struggles that their families face. But even though children don’t have to think about the hardships in their lives during school hours, the reality is that they often return home to empty refrigerators and cabinets with no food on the weekends.

A lot of children in need

According to our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, Cannonsburg Elementary School serves 276 children in Pre-K through 5th grade.

Even though children don’t have to think about the hardships in their lives during school hours, the reality is that they often return home to empty refrigerators and cabinets with no food on the weekends.

On a recent visit to the school, our volunteer coordinator, Ruth, told Renée that she has over 80 of those children in attendance on her Weekend Backpack Feeding Program. Ruth is sure that without the program, these children would have little or no food to eat on Saturdays and Sundays when they are not at school where they receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch.

This is a harsh reality for many children in our program all over the United States. But thankfully, because of dedicated volunteer coordinators like Ruth, sponsored and unsponsored children in our program can rely on weekly food bags to take home on Friday afternoons that ensure they are being fed when not in school.

A struggling family

Ruth sends food from the food pantry home with dozens of children every weekend.

During her time at Cannonsburg Elementary School, Renée had a chance to meet two brothers who are benefiting from our sponsorship program and the Resource Center’s Weekend Backpack Feeding Program.

Carter and Josiah* are two of seven children in their family, ranging in ages from three to nineteen years old. Their parents are separated, and Carter and Josiah’s mom — who works full time at McDonald’s — is mainly raising the children alone.

Ruth describes their mother as responsible and loving to her children, but it is tough for her to provide for everything they need. The Weekend Backpack Feeding Program helps them a lot — as do Carter and Josiah’s sponsors.

Ruth also mentioned to Renée she is planning on enrolling more of their siblings in our program so they can have sponsors too that can provide for their basic needs.

*Names changed to protect the children.

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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.

Pride in Her Students

For years, Catlettsburg, where are affiliated projects Catlettsburg Elementary and Ponderosa Elementary Schools are located, was known as “The Gate City” because it was here that barges were loaded with coal to be shipped down the Ohio River to other ports.

But even though the children might come from strikingly different economic backgrounds, that doesn’t change how they interact with one other.

The decline of the coal industry in Kentucky and West Virginia has severely diminished the city’s economic importance, and commerce is now minimal. Today, this area of Boyd County, Kentucky suffers from high rates of both poverty and illiteracy, since a significant number of adults have never completed high school.

These social and economic problems negatively affect even the youngest members of Catlettsburg, which is why both Ponderosa and Catlettsburg Elementary serve as  bright and welcoming places for children to learn and escape some of the harsh realities they face at home.

The Haves and Have Nots

While visiting the two schools, our Director of U.S. Programs Renée Kube, met with our volunteer coordinator Jenny. Jenny oversees the resource centers at both schools, ensuring that children — including sponsored and unsponsored children in our program — are receiving basic needs throughout the school year.

During their meeting, Jenny explained to Renée that because Boyd County is located in a very rural and beautiful part of the country, Catlettsburg has become a popular place for middle and upper-class families to build homes. Jenny feels that because of this migration, the student population is divided more conspicuously into the “haves and have nots.”

But even though the children might come from strikingly different economic backgrounds, that doesn’t change how they interact with one other.

While the administration, faculty and staff of the schools may know which families struggle and which do not, Jenny says the students are very close and treat each other with kindness and respect.

Additionally, as a tight-knit group, the children are more than willing to come together to help other students in need — even those that are far away.

Additionally, as a tight-knit group, the children are more than willing to come together to help other students in need — even those that are far away.

Rising to a challenge

Before their meeting ended, Jenny told Renée a story expressing how much pride she had in her students.

In 2018, the deadly Camp Fire burned down much of the town of Paradise, California — including a school also named Ponderosa Elementary School. Not long after the fire, the principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Catlettsburg was informed about a nationwide fundraiser through another Ponderosa Elementary School in Oregon.

The fundraiser, deemed “Pennies for Ponderosa Initiative” requested that the eleven schools named Ponderosa Elementary School in the United States collect donations for the rebuilding of the California school.

The children at Jenny’s School stepped up to the challenge. They not only raised money to help students on the other side of the country, but also sent video messages of hope and encouragement as they and their families worked to rebuild their lives.

Whether coming from an impoverished background or not, children at Ponderosa Elementary School showed that they were willing to do anything they could to help others in need — and that is something to be proud of.

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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.

How Poverty Impacts Academic Achievement

In our work at Children Incorporated, we often talk about the importance of getting an education. For children in our program, we believe education is the key to finding jobs upon graduation that will enable them to work toward breaking the cycle of poverty from which they come.

Unfortunately, statistics show that children growing up in impoverished households often perform less well academically than their peers.

The challenges of living below the poverty line

Jackie is pictured here with one of our sponsored children at Beaver Creek Elementary School.

As reported by the non-profit Operation Warm’s website, “Children living above the poverty line are entering kindergarten more prepared than those below it. High-income families are able to put more money towards their children’s cognitive development than those living in poverty.”

“Parents with low incomes, on average, have less time to read to their children, no funds for pre-school and less stable home environments. The difference in preparation tends to persist through elementary and high school.”

Beavers Are Achievers

According to our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, this achievement gap is prevalent in some of our affiliated schools in Eastern Kentucky, and specifically at Beaver Creek Elementary School in Knott County. Located in the small community of Topmost, families of children enrolled at Beaver Creek Elementary face rampant poverty. They struggle to overcome the common socioeconomic problems that plague Knott County such as adult illiteracy, school absenteeism, child obesity and substance abuse.

“There is no question that poverty can impact academic achievement in ways ranging from lack of books in the home to transportation barriers that make it difficult to travel to cultural and historic sites,” stated Renée. 

While visiting Beaver Creek Elementary School, Renée met with our volunteer coordinator Jackie, who Renée describes as incredibly devoted to helping her students.

During their meeting, Jackie explained that although the school motto is “Beavers Are Achievers” the children are struggling academically as they aim to reach their goals. The school’s test scores lag behind state averages, reaching only the 51st percentile in reading and just the 38th percentile in math in state ranking.

“There is no question that poverty can impact academic achievement in ways ranging from lack of books in the home to transportation barriers that make it difficult to travel to cultural and historic sites,” stated Renée. 

Making kids feel loved

Often times while visiting our affiliated projects, Renée visits with parents of children enrolled in our program.

Jackie told Renée that one of the biggest challenges in the community — and the county as a whole — is coping with drug addiction and the lack of treatment options for it. The fallout affects many children, resulting in them being raised by grandparents or other family members. For other children who still live at home with their parents, they are often being neglected and raising themselves.

Jackie feels fortunate that a local church brings food to the school’s Resource Center for her weekend Backpack Feeding Program. She says that the Children Incorporated sponsorship program is vital in helping with clothing, shoes and school supplies throughout the year. Jackie also values how sponsors make her students feel special and let them know that someone cares for them.

Meeting two special parents

After taking a tour of the building and grounds, Jackie was happy to show Renée the Family Resource Center where she had asked two of her parents —Raven and Scottie — to thank our organization on behalf of all the parents of sponsored children.

While meeting with Raven and Scottie, Renée could tell they were both very dedicated to and concerned for their daughters.

“Raven is a homemaker. Scottie was unemployed for a long time but has recently gotten a job at a small, local non-profit community center. The pay is meager. They told me that our sponsorship program has meant so much to their little girls, and that it warms their hearts to see the excitement their sponsors bring to their children,” said Renée.

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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.

Attending, Learning and Graduating

Students in attendance at Boyd County High School in the small rural town of Cannonsburg, Kentucky are fortunate to have their resource center volunteer, Vickie, in their lives.

Thanks in large part to Vickie’s efforts, the school has a high success rate — much higher than many other schools in Eastern Kentucky. As of last year, 93% of students at the school graduate within four years, and 65% enroll in some type of higher education.

A committed coordinator

Renee with one of our sponsored children at Boyd County High School.

Renée with one of our sponsored children at Boyd County High School

While meeting with Vickie in the Resource Center at Boyd County High School, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube noted that Vickie had a deep commitment to her students.

“Vickie is always working on new initiatives to keep high school kids attending school and learning with a focus on graduating and going on to college or trade school,” said Renée.

Renée recognized that Vickie has an extremely tough job — she explained to Renée that the economy of the region had declined over the past ten years, and it has hit families hard.

A loss of jobs

Vickie cited the steel mill as an example, which, due to imports, cut its workers from 5000 to 2500 over the last decade. Because of these job losses the overall poverty rate in Boyd County is an astounding 20%.

“Vicki is always working on new initiatives to keep high school kids attending school and learning with a focus on graduating and going on to college or trade school,” said Renée.

In addition, 34% of households are headed by a single parent — in large part due to issues with drug abuse in the county. Because of these problems, Boyd County High School administrators have a lot to handle when it comes to supporting students. Many children lack adult supervision and the support they need at home to do well and focus on their futures after high school.

Overcoming every obstacle

Yet all of these obstacles don’t get in the way of Vickie helping kids and making sure they get the encouragement they need to succeed and to go on to higher education.

Vickie (right) is an incredibly dedicated volunteer coordinator.

According to Renée, Vickie is an incredibly dedicated Children Incorporated volunteer coordinator. She makes sure to check in with sponsored students weekly to find out precisely what they need. She also encourages them to write letters to their sponsors so they can feel connected to a caring adult in their lives.

That communication is so essential for kids because outside of the school environment, sponsors are often the only ones showing the kids they are worthwhile and capable of doing well in life.

Excelling academically

With quite a few students raising themselves and their younger siblings because their parents are absent or unable to care for them, it isn’t surprising that they struggle to do well in school.

With so many distractions, they don’t have the time and energy to focus on their future. But thanks to Vickie and these students’ sponsors, kids at Boyd County High School not only are getting the attention they need every day, but they are excelling academically.

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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.