Tag Archives: kentucky

Looking for the Bigger Picture

When I received an email earlier this year from sponsor Laura DeCook about a bake sale fundraiser she was hosting, I was thrilled to hear about her efforts to help her sponsored child, Caroline*, beyond her monthly sponsorship contribution.

What I didn’t realize at the time was just how much more Laura was doing when it came to being involved in Caroline’s life — and the lives of other children as well.

I would soon find out that Laura had plans to fly from California to Kentucky to meet Caroline in person and that the donations she was collecting were going towards helping other children at Caroline’s school — those kids that don’t have sponsors like Laura yet.

I caught up with Laura to ask her about her sponsorship experience, her visit to Kentucky and how she feels about the power of of sponsoring a child.

An interview with Laura DeCook

Laura’s mother accompanied Laura on her trip to Kentucky.

SC: Do you recall how you first got involved with sponsoring a child with Children Incorporated?

LD: Yes! I was going through a difficult time professionally and mentally, and someone told me about the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.”

I had been looking into organizations where I could give back and stop focusing so much on myself and looking at the bigger picture, which would make me feel more satisfied with my life.

When I read how much the author loved Children Incorporated, I did my research and loved what I saw. I immediately decided to sponsor a child most in need and was assigned to a very young boy, Elisandro, in Guatemala. He moved away about five years later, and I temporarily sponsored another boy until he too moved away.

I now sponsor the loveliest boy in Guatemala City, Danny, who is twelve years old. He writes the most eloquent letters I’ve ever seen a young boy write. I can tell he is going to be very successful one day.

SC: You sponsor a young girl in Kentucky named Caroline. What level of communication have you kept with her through your sponsorship? What has that communication meant to you and her?

LD: After sponsoring children in Guatemala for years, I decided I would like to sponsor another child in the U.S. — one that I could send packages to and maybe eventually meet in person more easily. Caroline was around eight years old when we first began writing to each other, and I loved seeing photos of her wearing the clothes I had picked out — including a cool jacket with the letter “C” on it.

“I’ll never forget Caroline trying to fit all of the clothing and art supplies I brought with me into her locker with a huge smile on her face.”

She wrote me really sweet letters every couple of months, always answering the questions I asked her in mine. She is eleven now, so it’s been quite a few years seeing her grow up in photos and the way she writes now, which is so much more mature.

SC: What was your motivation to host a fundraiser to provide additional support for the school where Caroline attends?

LD: One day, at the start of the summer, I was at the gym thinking about what I wanted to do for my birthday. Since parties aren’t a big deal to me anymore, I didn’t want my friends to feel obliged to go out and spend a lot of money.

I then had the idea that I would start a fundraiser to help out Caroline’s school through a PayPal money pool. I had decided by that time that I was going to visit her in Kentucky over Labor Day weekend so that I could tell her school’s Resource Coordinator about the donation in person. I was able to raise a great deal from generous friends quickly, but I wanted to go even higher.

Funds raised from Laura’s bake sale went to support children without sponsors at the school where Laura sponsors Caroline.

I then thought of another way to quickly fundraise — a bake sale at my company. Last year I had run a charity bake sale for a veteran’s organization over the 4th of July, so I thought, why not for Children Incorporated this year?

My company, Expedia Group, matches dollar-for-dollar to charitable organizations, so I knew I’d be able to raise quite a bit. After all was said and done, the bake sale raised about $700, and my friends donated the rest to make my total close to $1100. Expedia matched it, and the funds were given to the school and to three boys awaiting sponsorship there.

SC: That’s incredible! Can you tell us more about what your visit with Caroline was like for you?

LD: It was amazing. I still think about it all of the time. When Caroline and her sister, who is also sponsored through the Children Incorporated program, walked into the room, it was like a photo coming to life. Caroline was so excited she was shaking.

It only took about 15 minutes of conversation to feel a bond to her and her sister. We were soon laughing, talking about our lives, our pets, school, telling jokes, everything! What I thought would be one hour turned into close to three. The head of the school’s resource center, Angela, is a saint. She was such a wonderful host and had lunch waiting and answered every question I had about the girls’ lives before I met them. She showed me around her office, where she has neatly organized bins of clothing for children who come to school with dirty clothes or need an article of clothing. Getting to know her was just as much fun as meeting Caroline!

Caroline and her sister took Angela and me on a tour of their school before we said goodbye. I had tears in my eyes. I’ll never forget Caroline trying to fit all of the clothing and art supplies I brought with me into her locker with a huge smile on her face.

SC: Did you know much about Kentucky before your visit? What stood out to you?

“It is the best $30 a month anyone could spend. Children Incorporated and its sponsors are seriously changing lives.”

LD: I work in travel, so I had a general idea of the lay of the land and had read about Lexington and the beautiful horse farms and great food.

It was fun to see some of Kentucky a couple of days before I drove out to Appalachia, starting in Louisville, then to Lexington. The thing that stood out the most was the genuine Southern charm that everyone has. People were so down to earth and kind. It’s a huge change from so much of the Bay Area where everyone is always rushing from one place to another. In Kentucky, they seem to really slow down and enjoy life more.

The highlight of the sightseeing portion of the trip was going to a farm with retired horses that had run in the Kentucky Derby, some having made millions of dollars from their days on the track. I’m not a big supporter of horse racing but love how well the horses are now being taken care of in their old age!

Angela is pictured with Caroline and her sister. Caroline’s sister is also in our sponsorship program.

SC: What would you tell someone else sponsoring a child who might be considering doing so themselves?

LD: It seriously has been the most rewarding experience. Connecting with a child who is lacking so much that others take for granted has been so humbling.

Seeing the huge smiles on their faces when I get pictures of them with new clothes and shoes sometimes makes me really emotional but in a good way. It is the best $30 a month anyone could spend. Children Incorporated and its sponsors are seriously changing lives.

*Names changed to protect the children.

***

How do I sponsor a child with Children Incorporated?

You can sponsor a child with Children Incorporated in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

 

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 succeeding 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.

SPONSOR A CHILD

 

Pride in Her Students

For years, Catlettsburg, where our 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.

Although the children may 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.”

Although the children may 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.

SPONSOR A CHILD

 

Two Schools, One Volunteer Coordinator

Fairview Independent School comprises two campuses, Fairview Elementary and Fairview High Schools, located just a few blocks apart from each other in the small community of Westwood, Kentucky.

Like many communities in Eastern Kentucky, Westwood has suffered significantly from the decline of the coal and steel mining industries that used to dominate this area.

At one point, Armco Steel employed the majority of the Westwood workforce and made it a prosperous town. Today, only 1300 employees remain at Armco, and poverty, high dropout rates and unemployment are now serious problems.

A beacon of hope for kids

Fairview Elementary School

Fairview Independent School serves as a welcome escape from poverty for this rural community. Many children from Westwood’s impoverished families look forward to school, where they receive a well-rounded education, two nutritious meals and the attention of a dedicated and caring staff including our volunteer coordinator Ashley and her assistant Katrina.

Ashley and Katrina equally share the responsibilities of making sure that sponsored and unsponsored kids in our program are receiving the support they need from their sponsors.

“Ashley and Katrina work at both schools to support a lot of children. With a total enrollment of almost 800 students, they have a large caseload and are great at handling their jobs,” stated Renée.

According to our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, who recently visited the schools, Ashley and Katrina are different in appearance and manner, but work exceptionally well together and have a mutually agreeable and cooperative relationship.

“Ashley and Katrina work at both schools to support a lot of children. With a total enrollment of almost 800 students, they have a large caseload and are great at handling their jobs,” stated Renée.

“They are constantly seeking resources to assist the children and their families, and both told me that Children Incorporated is vital in what they do.”

Finding resources in the community

During their meeting, Ashley explained to Renée about how she and Katrina operate a Weekend Snack Bag Program during the school year and offer food boxes in June and July for families in need during summer break.

Thanks to donations to the Family Resource Center, Ashley and Katrina can provide clothes to children all year long.

They also receive assistance from two community churches and a local hospital.

Ashley and Katrina expressed that they usually do well with food provisions throughout the year thanks to help from the community, but if they run low, they won’t hesitate to reach out to Children Incorporated for emergency aid through our Hope In Action Program.

Meeting Cassandra

Renée had a chance to visit both the Fairview High and the Fairview Elementary Schools during her trip. It was apparent to her that the children were significantly affected by Ashley and Katrina’s dedication to the students. Additionally, the support children in our program were receiving from their sponsors was making a huge difference in the lives of these vulnerable kids.

Before leaving the elementary school, Ashley and Katrina introduced Renée to Cassandra*. Cassandra is one of three children in her family. Their single mother who works for low-wages at a restaurant is raising them. She often struggles to pay the bills. Ashley told Renée that Cassandra’s sponsor keeps clothes on her back and shoes on her feet.

*Name changed to protect the child.

***

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.

SPONSOR A CHILD

 

Backpacks Full of Food to the Rescue

Boyd County Middle School is located in the isolated and rural town of Cannonsburg, Kentucky.

When children don’t eat enough, it can shorten their attention span, lower their IQ and keep them from performing well in school.

Like many of Kentucky’s Eastern Coal Field communities, Cannonsburg has suffered significantly 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 dismal poverty. Illiteracy and high dropout rates are significant problems in the area.

Thankfully, students at Boyd County Middle School have caring teachers and staff that work hard to motivate and educate them so that they can graduate and become successful members of their community.

A newly renovated school

Not only do students at the school have a supportive group of administrators to help them, but according to our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, they also have newly renovated school buildings to enjoy.

Unfortunately, for many children living in poverty, their only meals of the day can often be those they receive at school.

On a recent visit to Boyd County Middle School, Renée marveled at the new entrance façade, energy efficient windows, improved access to the gym and a new bus loading/unloading area designed to help with traffic congestion during peak times — all updates from the last time she visited the school a few years ago.

A lack of adequate food at home

While at the school, Renée also got a chance to meet with our volunteer coordinator, Vicki. Vicki told Renée that Boyd County Middle School serves 729 students in sixth through eighth grades. Fifty-seven percent of those children come from low-income families. These children often come to school without proper clothes, shoes and school supplies. Many of them don’t have adequate food at home either.

“Vicki expressed to me that her biggest need is for more help with her Weekend Backpack Food Program, which is currently assisting over 100 children,” said Renée.

Why is backpack feeding necessary?

Sending children home on Friday afternoons with non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food ensures that they get enough food on weekends and holidays when they can’t rely on a getting a nutritious meal at school.

Unfortunately, lack of food in the home for families living in poverty is an issue that many children in the United States face. According to Feeding America’s website, “Twenty-two million children receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. For many of these children, school meals may be the only meals they eat.”

Roughly 13 million kids in America today don’t have enough food to eat on the weekends. One in five kids in our country goes without access to affordable, nutritious food on Saturdays and Sundays. Lack of adequate food leads to health problems in addition to hunger. When children don’t eat enough, it can shorten their attention span, lower their IQ and keep them from performing well in school.

Because of these harsh realities, backpack feeding programs like Vicki’s at Boyd County Middle School are crucial for children. Sending children home on Friday afternoons with non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food ensures that they get enough food on weekends and holidays when they can’t rely on a getting a nutritious meal at school.

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HOW DO I SUPPORT BACKPACK FEEDING PROGRAMS IN THE U.S.?

Our U.S. Feeding Program provides support for Backpack Feeding Programs at our affiliated projects. To donate, call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org or visit https://childrenincorporated.org/u-s-feeding-programs/ to make an online donation.

DONATE TO OUR U.S. FEEDING PROGRAM

 

Support for the Long-Term

When our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, was contacted by Deb from Carr Creek Elementary School in Knott County, Kentucky twelve years ago, Renée had no idea how much of an affect that one phone call would have on children in need.

During a recent visit to Carr Creek Elementary School, Renée got a chance to see first-hand just how proud Deb is of the partnership she has created with Children Incorporated.

Deb had heard about the Children Incorporated sponsorship program during a regional Family Resource and Youth Services Center meeting among administrators and staff. After hearing about what sponsors were doing for children living in poverty, Deb knew she needed to get in touch with Renée about the urgent needs of impoverished kids at Carr Creek.

After talking with Deb, Renée agreed to partner with her and Carr Creek Elementary School — making them our first affiliated project in Knott County.

More schools in need

Before Renée knew it, the word about our organization’s support at Carr Creek had reached other Resource Center coordinators in Knott County. They each followed in Deb’s footsteps, calling to request partnering with Children Incorporated. Today, thanks to Deb’s initiative, we support thousands of children in dozens of affiliated schools in Kentucky.

Deb with one of our sponsored children

Not only was Deb the first coordinator to get in touch about our sponsorship program Knott County, but according to Renée, she is also the first coordinator in the state to submit a Hope in Action Fund request that was for more than just one-time aid for a particular emergency.

“Deb submitted a proposal on efforts to enrich the students’ knowledge in social studies because the results of their standardized test scores were very low,” explained Renée.

“She then designed a summer camp program with instructors that taught concepts in a fun and engaging manner. Before the program began, Deb created pre-tests for the students to take. After the program ended, the children took post-tests, and the results were good. The entire faculty of the school then built additional programs on those gains that Deb initiated.”

“Deb was very excited to present me with a quilt that sponsored students had made in her after-school program. She said it’s a small appreciation of how much our programs mean to her and the families we serve,” expressed Renée.

“We were delighted to see the success of Deb’s program. Since then we have supported many similar programs in the United States through our Hope in Action Fund. These programs are geared towards long-term projects that support children over time as opposed to just for the short-term,” said Renée.

A gift to say thank you

During a recent visit to Carr Creek Elementary School, Renée got a chance to see first-hand just how proud Deb is of the partnership she has created with Children Incorporated.

“Deb was very excited to present me with a quilt that sponsored students had made in her after-school program. She said it’s a small appreciation of how much our programs mean to her and the families we serve,” expressed Renée.

After receiving the quilt, Deb introduced Renée to a few of our sponsored kids as well as their parents.

Meeting special sponsored kids

Deb works hard to make sure sponsored and unsponsored children have school supplies all year long.

Deb invited Benjamin* to the Resource Center first. Benjamin lives with his unemployed parents and two older brothers. He loves football and roots for the local high school team. Deb told Renée that Benjamin is very appreciative of his sponsor’s help to make sure he has proper clothing and shoes.

Next, Renée met Olivia and her mother, Amanda. Olivia is a sweet little girl who lives with her mom, dad and little brother. Her father works as a heating technician, but his pay is meager. Olivia’s mom helps when she can by cleaning houses and catering for weddings. Her parents’ combined earnings are still so low that Olivia qualifies for free meals at school. Olivia told Renée that she loves writing letters to her sponsor. Amanda said that Children Incorporated is a blessing for her child, and that she’s so grateful for the program.

After Amanda and Olivia left, Deb explained to Renée that Olivia’s parents are responsible and very loving, and that Amanda regularly volunteers at the Family Resource Center so she can give back in thanks for everything that Olivia receives from her sponsor.

Grandparents stepping up to help

Lastly, Deb introduced Renée to a family of children — Rebecca, Natalie, Laura and Joanna — who are being raised by their retired grandparents. Deb explained to Renée that starting over and raising young children is not what most grandparents envisioned. Many are overwhelmed financially and emotionally.

Despite their situation, Deb is proud that these girls’ grandparents have stepped up and feels they are doing a good job. Sponsorship is really helping their family, and the girls all love having special friends in their sponsors that provide for them when their grandparents can’t.

*Names changed to protect the children.

***

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.

SPONSOR A CHILD