Tag Archives: kentucky

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.

High Rents in Jackson City

Jackson City is located in rural and mountainous Breathitt County, Kentucky. Until the 1990s, coal was the foundation of the county’s economy, but the steady decline of the coal mining industry has begun to wreak havoc upon the local economy.

Many families, who once depended upon the mines for income, now depend upon part-time employment at minimum wages, welfare, and food stamps. Poverty and unemployment have become intrinsic parts of daily life in Jackson City — which is exacerbated by the high cost of rent.

The school on the hill

Our affiliated project, Jackson City School, is nicknamed by residents “the school on the hill.” It is indeed perched atop a very tall hill behind the county courthouse. From the school grounds, there is a view over the rooftops of the little city below, as well as the rolling hills and mountains over the horizon.

Our volunteer coordinator, Dixie, has a lot of experience working with children in need.

While visiting Jackson City School, our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, met with our volunteer coordinator, Dixie.

“Dixie a is a real winner of a coordinator — the students at Jackson City School are lucky to have her. She came to Jackson City Schools after working at the former Sebastian Middle School in Breathitt County, so she arrived at the Family Resource Youth Services Center fully understanding our sponsorship program,” explained Renée.

“Dixie is energetic and warm. She has developed close relationships with her students and families.” 

Rent overburdened in America

During their meeting, Dixie told Renée that the Family Resource Center’s greatest needs are support for the Backpack Weekend Feeding Program and her Parent Program. The Parent Program offers parents help with issues like child development and abuse prevention strategies, such as working on methods to calm down, patience, and time outs.

“Dixie explained that, since Jackson is the county seat, its middle class and professional families tend to live here and to enroll their children in the city school system rather than in the county school system,” said Renée.

“We are so grateful for our sponsors, and Dixie, who fills a big gap for parents. Dixie works hard to find great discounts so she can maximize the items she can provide for children throughout the year.”

“At the same time, there are six low-income housing apartment communities in Jackson that offer a total of 134 affordable apartments. One hundred two of these do not provide direct rent assistance but remain affordable. Thirty-two are formal, income-based apartments. The need outpaces the demand. If a family moves to another county, then that apartment is quickly rented to a new family.”

In the United States, households who pay more than thirty percent of their gross income are considered to be “rent overburdened.” In Jackson, a household making less than $1,357 a month would be regarded as overburdened when renting an apartment at or above the median rent. Nearly thirty-seven percent of households who rent are overburdened in Jackson.

Dixie and our sponsors to the rescue

“For families of children in our sponsorship program, this means a disproportionate amount of their low income is required to pay for rent, leaving only a small percentage available for utilities, food, gas, auto maintenance, and repairs — as well as their growing children’s needs for new shoes, school supplies, and other needs,” said Renée.

“We are so grateful for our sponsors, and Dixie, who fills a big gap for parents. Dixie works hard to find great discounts so she can maximize the items she can provide for children throughout the year.”

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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.

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.

Back to School Bash in Letcher County

Letcher County is located in the southeastern corner of Kentucky and shares a border with Wise County, Virginia.

“Letcher County is very beautiful. On its eastern border runs a vast tract of the Jefferson National Forest, which is shared with Virginia,” explained our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube.

Jenkins Independent School is a long-established project with Children Incorporated, and our sponsorship programs are much needed and appreciated by the students.

“A point of pride in the county is Pine Mountain. It’s the second-highest mountain in Kentucky and is also an exceptionally long mountain whose ridge runs about 100 miles from just below the West Virginia line south through the Kentucky-Virginia border to Tennessee, including the entire length of Letcher County.”

“The county is trying hard to develop the tourist industry by promoting the scenic beauty to be enjoyed in its trails and parks. These include the Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail, Bad Branch Falls, and the Pioneer Horse Trail,” said Renée.

The need for tourists

The reason the county is working so diligently to promote tourism is due to the collapse of the coal industry. There used to be dozens of coal camps in Letcher County, each employing an average of 30 to 300 men who lived in the camps with their families. However, with the rise of automation, coal extraction and processing could be done with a significantly reduced number of workers. This was devastating for the families, and also devastating for communities that lost the tax base for their schools and community services.

“Letcher County has formally asked the U.S. government to construct a federal penitentiary on the site of an abandoned mountain top strip mine. Letcher County Judge-Executive, Jim Ward, was interviewed by NBC News about the prospective prison. He said the economic situation is desperate in Letcher County. He has talked to residents who have lost their jobs and homes. He has talked with parents who see no hope for their children to be successful if they grow up and stay in the county. He said residents are willing to try or do almost anything to save their rural way of life,” said Renée.

Running programs to help children in need

The front view of Jenkins High School

Jenkins Independent School is a long-established project with Children Incorporated, and our sponsorship program is much needed and appreciated by the students. The school serves students in seventh through twelfth grade in a  two-story building comprising twenty classrooms, two computer labs, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, an art room, a band/music room, a library, a guidance office, and four special education rooms.

Our volunteer coordinator, Angie, is an experienced coordinator who works tirelessly to bring resources for her students. She runs a Backpack Feeding Program for those who struggle to cope with food insecurity. She maintains clothing and supply closets, and she is always reaching out for more donations within the small community.

Her “Back to School Bash” is a key program, where she brings in informational booths to set-up on the softball field and gives out tickets to the local pool, giving parents and children a chance to learn about any number of services the school and the community offers.

During a visit to the school with Angie, Renée had the chance to hear more about the programs Angie runs within the school. Then, Angie brought in a couple of students to her office for Renée to meet.

Much-needed support for kids in need

Brian* is a sweet and rather shy seventh-grader. In school, he likes math and music the best, and for sports, he likes baseball. Brian is not sure about his future plans, but he is interested in becoming a firefighter or maybe a construction worker.

“After he returned to class, Angie told me that Brian’s father had died unexpectedly,  and his mother has struggled with raising him as a single parent. Angie was so grateful that Brian had the support of his sponsor because she knew he needed the help,” said Renée.

Next, Renée met Julia.* When Julia joined our sponsorship program in 2011, when she was in elementary school, she was matched with a sponsor who is still supporting her today. Even though Julia has moved multiple times over the years, Angie always made sure she still stayed connected with her sponsor.

“Julia told me that her sponsors feel like grandparents to her. She is grateful for their financial help, but just as appreciative for the emotional support. They sent packages, additional money gifts, and letters that are precious to her,” 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.