Tag Archives: On the Road

Visiting Navajo Country

The To’Hajiilee (pronounced “toe-HA-ji-lee”) Community School is located in northern New Mexico in the area around Cañoncito. This school is typical of those that serve Navajo children in the United States and are funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs – except for one thing: it is far removed from the vast Navajo Nation, which spills from Arizona into New Mexico and Utah. Though not a part of the Nation, this area is still considered “Navajo Country,” where a few sheep graze against a landscape of barren desert relieved by occasional flat-topped mesas.

Despite the wealth of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage there, the Navajos who live in and around Cañoncito are desperately poor. There is virtually no employment. Broken homes, alcoholism, and an inadequate amount of food are manifestations of the poverty in which they live. For this reason, the To’Hajiilee Community School serves as a beacon of hope for children. At the school, each child receives nutritious meals, encouragement, and a quality education – giving the students there the opportunity to rise above the difficult economic circumstances from which they come.

The reality of poverty in New Mexico

Katrina does not know what she would do without the Children Incorporated program, which provides warm clothing during winter months, shoes, school supplies, medical supplies, and food items for kids.

According to Poverty USA, an organization that tracks and reports on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, New Mexico ranks 49th in poverty out of fifty states. The child poverty rate there is 30.1 percent. The U.S. Census reports that the critical poverty rates in New Mexico are concentrated among the American Indian population there. More than half of all adults in the Navajo Nation – 56 percent – are unemployed. While education is often seen as the key to reducing poverty, only 25 percent of Navajo adults have at least the equivalent of a high school education.

The Kids Count Data Center for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, another organization that tracks poverty levels, reports that intervening during childhood is key in breaking the cycle of poverty. The center’s data indicates that collaborative efforts are more likely to bear fruit – and New Mexico has begun an initiative to tackle childhood hunger.

The National School Lunch Program, which ensures that children eat a nutritional meal during the school day, is a big help; but still many children go home to inadequate food supplies on nights, weekends, and holidays. Experts say that another way to combat poverty is to improve educational opportunities for children. Children who pertain to minority groups are often hit the hardest by poverty, and New Mexico’s American Indian population is heavily impacted by it.

Drawing Water from a Well

The To’Hajiilee Community School serves pre-kindergarten students up to adult education. Built in the 1960s, it consists of several buildings and a gym. The school has an enrollment of over 300 students. It is approximately one hour west of Albuquerque. “To’Hajiilee” translates to “Drawing Water from a Well” in English. The well to which the name refers is located in a canyon just west of the school.

U.S. Projects Specialist, Shelley Oxenham, recently met with our Volunteer Coordinator Katrina at the To’Hajiilee Community School. Katrina is the Director of Family Engagement at the school, and this past year was her first full year of managing the Children Incorporated program. She is supported by the staff of the school and Elayne, her supervisor.

At the beginning of the school year, Katrina sent a survey to students’ parents that requested shoe and clothing sizes for their kids, as well as a list of needs with check boxes to select next to them. Katrina used the completed surveys to shop for the students based on the answers, and she had their parents pick her purchases up. She tries to be discreet; she doesn’t want the kids to be labeled as the poorest in the school, causing them to feel embarrassed or ostracized. She said that most every family at the school needs the program, but she tries to enroll the children whose families she knows to be the neediest.

Katrina does not know what she would do without the Children Incorporated program, which provides warm clothing during winter months, shoes, school supplies, medical supplies, and food items for kids. She says that the sponsored children benefit very much, and that she loves it when sponsors are even more involved, and write letters and send packages to their sponsored kids.

As we continue our partnership with Katrina and the To’Hajiilee Community School, according to Shelley, we see our programs supporting the children’s health and education beyond our sponsorship program. After visiting the school, Shelley considered the opportunity for our Hope In Action Fund to contribute to school gardens and markets, which will tackle some food scarcity issues for both sponsored and unsponsored kids.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN NEW MEXICO?

You can sponsor a child in New Mexico 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.

Beyond Sponsorship

We meet a wide array of needs for children and their families through our Hope In Action Fund, which provides support outside of sponsorship. From providing aid in the wake of emergencies to supporting weekend and summer feeding programs, individual, one-­time donations to this special fund really go a long way. They support income-generating projects, and they go towards the construction of homes and schools – and even medical clinics at our affiliated projects. As a way to show our appreciation for your support, we want to share just some of the many amazing accomplishments we were able to make in 2017, thanks to your contributions to our Hope In Action Fund.

Helping kids in the united states

Last year, our Hope In Action Fund provided continued assistance for a combined College/Career Awareness and Parent Resource Program at our affiliated project Carr Creek Elementary School in Kentucky. The fund also aided our volunteer coordinator at Lucy Ellen Moten Elementary School in Washington, D.C. in the development of a mentoring program. Thanks to your contributions, we were able to provide additional resources in New Orleans, Louisiana, which included aid for an after-school program, uniforms for children whose families could not afford them, and 500 books distributed at three literacy events during the year to increase a love of reading and to help build the home libraries of 500 children.

Kids in Kentucky have benefited greatly from our Hope In Action Fund.

Our Hope In Action Fund also provided backpacks and school supplies for “Readifests” at several of our Kentucky schools to support kids at the start of the school year. Funds enabled the entire student body of Bevins Elementary School in Kentucky, including children enrolled in our program, to benefit from an educational drug awareness and personal resiliency program. Additionally, our Hope In Action Fund provided opportunities for our sponsored and unsponsored children at Sparta Elementary School in North Carolina to attend cultural and educational performances outside of their community – experiences that they otherwise would not have had.

Donations also offered disaster relief for children impacted by serious flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thanks to you, we were able to provide canned hams, canned vegetables, and boxed food for Thanksgiving for children at our newest project in Richmond, Virginia, E.S.H. Greene Elementary School. We were also able to pay for a young girl in Kentucky to have a much-needed eye exam, and to replace her broken glasses, improving her vision so that she’d have less difficulty keeping up in class.

Thanks to you, we were able to establish a weekend feeding program at Shonto Preparatory School in Arizona on the Navajo Reservation, as well as provide assistance for a partial denture for a high school student in Kentucky who suffered an accident that caused him to lose his four front teeth. We were also able to address food insecurity by supporting weekend feeding programs and monthly markets of fresh fruits and vegetables at our four affiliated projects in Washington, D.C. We assisted three children enrolled in our program at Piney Creek Elementary School in North Carolina to attend and participate in the Junior Beta Club State Convention in Greensboro.

We couldn’t help with such simple but powerful things without our sponsors’ and donors’ contributions to our Hope In Action Fund.

Our Hope In Action Fund also provided a complete professional outfit for a high-achieving student at Greyhills Academy High School in Arizona so that she could advance and compete in the Navajo Nation Science Fair in Window Rock. Donations gave us the ability to help a little boy at Johns Creek Elementary School in Kentucky to be transported to and from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, by providing funds for gas and food, so that he could undergo additional procedures following his open-heart surgery.

Donations enabled 25 children at Johnson County Middle School in Paintsville, Kentucky, including children enrolled in our program, to attend and learn at the Summer Scrubs Camp at the Highlands Regional Medical Center in Prestonsburg. Additionally, we were able to purchase playground equipment for the kids at G.H. Reid Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia.

Supporting kids internationally

Outside of the United States, last year, our Hope In Action Fund provided over a thousand pairs of new shoes to children in need in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We also made a contribution to the Materi Girls’ School in Meru, Kenya for the purchase of food for the families of the children who attend, who were suffering due to a terrible drought. We provided support to Guarderia El Angel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia to pay a few teachers’ salaries when the center lost funding from its local municipality. We also completed eight housing units near our affiliated project Villa Emilia in Bolivia to help the mothers of children enrolled in our program, who were formerly living on the streets.

We couldn’t help with such simple but powerful things without our sponsors’ and donors’ contributions to our Hope In Action Fund. Every contribution impacts a specific child or family – and oftentimes, it is life-changing for them. We are incredibly grateful that we have the ability to provide for children and their families beyond sponsorship, especially in circumstances that are dire, and in which they have nowhere else to turn for help. Thanks to you, thousands of children and their families are getting the support they need every year.

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HOW DO I CONTRIBUTE TO THE HOPE IN ACTION FUND?

You can contribute to our Hope In Action Fund in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and donate to our Hope In Action Fund.

Combating Feelings of Desperation

Menifee County High School is located in rural Menifee County, in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield. With the continuing decline of the coal mining industry in recent years, and due to a lack of other industries in the area, Menifee County residents struggle in the wake of diminishing job opportunities. The problems that affect many areas of the Appalachian region of the United States, including unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse, have begun to take their toll on Menifee County as well. As a result, not only do parents living in poverty feel depressed and hopeless, but sometimes their children do, too.

Homework plays a key role in education

Our Volunteer Coordinator, Melanie, with a few students who are wearing their school color proudly

Many Menifee County High School parents didn’t finish high school themselves, and their lack of education keeps them from obtaining any of the few well-paying jobs that do exist in the area – which causes them to feel more desperate. Oftentimes, they can’t even begin to imagine a way out of their situation. It’s not surprising, because many of them are uneducated, undereducated, or are battling depression or substance abuse; in these instances, they are usually either absent from their children’s lives, or they’re unable to help them with their homework.

Thankfully, however, Menifee County High School provides a well-rounded education for students, including those who come from impoverished families in which education and literacy are not always top priorities.

Menifee Matters

Menifee County High School serves grades nine through twelve. The high school has an old section that is slightly run-down, but it is attached to a large, new, modern addition. Our volunteer coordinator at the school is Melanie, and she is very attuned to both our sponsored and unsponsored kids’ personal issues. She knows the students well, and is familiar with their home lives, as she makes frequent home visits to check on families that she feels might need additional emotional or psychological support.

This may not seem like much, but just as our sponsorship program does, showing kids that they matter enriches their lives profoundly.

Melanie is aware that, because of difficult home lives in which kids are forced to deal with drug- or alcohol-addicted parents, many of the children in her care feel isolated and hopeless as they struggle with traumatic circumstances daily. To combat feelings of desperation, Melanie, along with other school administrators, started an initiative called Menifee Matters, so that students feel seen, noticed, and cared for. It started simply by providing students with magnetized name labels with which they could decorate their lockers. Then, each student received a Menifee Matters T-shirt. At the beginning of the school year, teachers wrote notes to their students to welcome each one back to school personally. They are small gestures, but Melanie says they make a difference for the kids.

This may not seem like much, but just as our sponsorship program does, showing kids that they matter enriches their lives profoundly. When a child knows that someone cares about them – when they might not always think that about people at home – they may be less likely to feel so alone or desperate. Encouraging children to feel good about themselves goes a very long way in helping them with their self-esteem, and it makes them feel like they are important, which can give them the confidence they need to succeed in school.

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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.

Schools Working Together to Help Kids

Lewis County has the unfortunate distinction of having consistently ranked as number one in unemployment among Kentucky’s counties since 1999. That year, the county’s top employer, a shoe factory, closed its doors and left many residents without a means to provide for their families. Other companies, including a cabinet business and a fiberglass company, closed as well. With these additional closures, Lewis County became even more economically depressed. Dismal poverty and drug abuse have since plagued the area.

Thankfully, children have the Lewis County Middle and High Schools’ teachers and administration, as well as the Family Resource and Youth Services Center and Children Incorporated Volunteer Coordinator, Scott, to rely on.

Scott, who oversees both schools, works closely with his colleagues and with parents to help encourage kids to overcome the obstacles they face living in an impoverished environment. Being able to work with kids starting in middle school, and maintaining contact with them through high school, means that Scott can help kids focus on their education for many years, and he can help them set goals that he’ll be able to support all the way up to graduation – and sometimes even beyond.

Being able to work with kids starting in middle school, and maintaining contact with them through high school, means that Scott can help kids focus on their education for many years.

Kids need more as they grow

The Lewis County Middle and High Schools share one Family Resource and Youth Services Center, where Scott met with our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, recently. The total number of students enrolled in the schools is about 750. Scott has one assistant, Sue, and because they have a very heavy workload, they stay incredibly busy ensuring that the students have the resources they need. Despite his hectic schedule, during Renée’s visit, Scott took the time to set up a tour of both schools, and meetings with sponsored students, as well as with some parents.

First, Renée and Scott met with Lydia, a loving and responsible mother who has a wonderfully positive outlook on life. Lydia and her husband have seven children. The eldest, Dianna*, is in the seventh grade, and has a sponsor through our program. Her daughter Brittany* is currently waiting to be sponsored. Lydia told Renée that as the children get older and are starting to enter middle school, they are growing fast, and are in need of more clothes and food than before, which is expensive for the family. Lydia’s husband is a self-employed construction laborer. His employment is erratic, so he doesn’t make enough to provide everything the family needs. Lydia said that she and her husband decided she needed to get a job, which made her nervous at first, because it meant that she would have to be away from her youngest child, Erin*, who is only a baby.

When Lydia was hired as a custodian at a nearby hospital in Morehead, Kentucky, she began paying a neighbor to babysit Erin while she was at work. Having to pay for childcare means Lydia doesn’t have a lot left over from her paychecks – but her job does help. Lydia is grateful for Dianna’s sponsor, and for the opportunity for Brittany to also get sponsored, because every little bit helps the family make ends meet, and helps keep her and her husband from worrying so much.

A dream of going to college

Renée (right) met with sponsored kids’ parents, such as Victoria, on her visit, thanks to Scott.

Renée also got the chance to meet Victoria. Victoria and her husband are raising a son and two daughters. One of their daughters, Sandra*, attended Lewis County Middle School, and is now at the high school. Victoria’s husband is a welder at construction jobs when work is available – but it is not steady. Victoria told Renée that Sandra is very bright and gets excellent grades. She said that Sandra dreams of going to college, and Victoria is pushing her to apply; but the family will need some additional financial support for tuition costs. Scott has known Sandra for a long time, and he feels that she would be an excellent candidate for the Children Incorporated Higher Education Program, which helps high school graduates to continue with their education.

Finally, Scott called in a bright and high-achieving student that he wanted Renée to meet. Leslie* is in the eleventh grade. She is the second of four children in her family. Scott said Leslie’s older sister used to be enrolled in our sponsorship program. She is now attending Morehead State University on scholarships and student loans. The two youngest kids are twins who are in the seventh grade, and who are also enrolled in our sponsorship program. Their mother is a nurse who receives little child support, but is doing an excellent job of raising her children. Scott said that the girls are polite, active in school, and that they try hard academically. He wants to recommend Leslie for our Higher Education Program as well so that she may receive some additional help when she graduates.

It is important for Children Incorporated to have affiliated partners like the Lewis County Middle and High Schools, as well as volunteer coordinators like Scott, who can help children strive and overcome adversity year after year, until they graduate – and sometimes even beyond. When schools work closely together as children make the transition from middle to high, and then on to higher education, these close-knit relationships and people like Scott ensure that children grow up with opportunities for the long-term.

*Children’s names changed for their protection.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN KENTUCKY?

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

A Big School Making a Big Impact

Located in the town of Owingsville in Kentucky’s Bath County, Crossroads Elementary School is a consolidation of two of Children Incorporated’s former affiliated schools – Bethel and Salt Lick Elementary Schools. When the two older schools were shut down, one new school was built to replace them; and according to our Director of U.S. Programs, Renée Kube, who recently visited Bath County, the school is huge.

Serving 496 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, a large percentage of students there is living in poverty. 75 percent of the kids qualify for free meals. Many parents and guardians are small farmers, laborers, and service workers – they hold low-income jobs with little security. Many children are being raised by their grandparents, which is hard on their caretakers, especially the ones who have lived in poverty their whole lives.

Renée, Gloria, and a few of our sponsored kids at Crossroads Elementary School pose for a photo.

 

Upon arriving at Crossroads Elementary School, Renée was greeted by our Volunteer Coordinator, Gloria, whose plan was to have Renée visit the Resource Center, and then meet some of our sponsored kids before taking a tour of the school. Built just eight years ago, the school has a modern feel that was apparent from the second Renée stepped through its front doors.

Renée could see large classrooms on either side of the hallways as she and Gloria made their way to the Resource Center, the corridors bright and sparkling, as though they had just been cleaned. Even before seeing it in its entirety, Renée thought it was a beautiful school, and it made her happy to imagine how hundreds of children in attendance had a large, safe, clean environment in which to learn and grow. Over the years, Renée has visited many of our sponsored children’s homes, which are typically old, small, rundown, and unkempt – a reflection of the extreme poverty in which these families live.

Resources for everyone

When they arrived at the Resource Center, Gloria showed Renée some cabinets and plastic storage bins that were stuffed with food and gently-used clothes. She explained that any child or family can come chose what they need; and for some children, she sends food home with them on the weekends if she’s worried they won’t have anything to eat otherwise.

Shortly after Gloria finished showing Renée her supplies, Natalie*, one of our sponsored children, arrived at the Resource Center. Natalie is a sweet and shy second-grader who loves to read. She and her brother are being raised by their disabled grandparents in a small, old mobile home. Natalie benefits greatly from the support of her sponsor, who ensures through her contributions that she gets appropriately-sized clothes and shoes, and school supplies and hygiene items all year long, as she needs them.

Next, Renée met Kevin*, another sponsored child who Gloria knew really needed the additional help that sponsorship provides. Gloria enrolled Kevin in our sponsorship program last December, but sometimes it takes a while to find sponsors for kids; by spring of the following year, Kevin was still waiting to be sponsored. During that time, he went to school in shoes that were completely split open and covered in duct tape. When Gloria brought him to the Resource Center to ask him about the shoes, Kevin said, “My shoes broke and Mama fixed them because I can’t have new ones.”

Many children are being raised by their grandparents, which is hard on their caretakers, especially the ones who have lived in poverty their whole lives.

Gloria knows Kevin’s mother struggles intensely – she is raising three kids in a small mobile home, and her sole income comes from work at a fast food restaurant where she makes minimum wage. Gloria was able to go to her cabinet and find Kevin a pair of gently-used shoes that, although not brand new, were at least not held together with tape. Thankfully, Kevin got a sponsor shortly after the incident, and now he receives new shoes and clothes that fit him perfectly.

A beautiful school

After visiting with Natalie and Kevin, Gloria took Renée on a tour of the school, which is colorful and full of natural light all throughout it. The computer lab has the latest technology, and the library is full of thousands of books, with brightly painted murals on the walls, and fun carpets laid across the floors. Renée loved seeing all the different rooms in the school – she felt as though it offers a wonderfully warm atmosphere for learning, and that it really does serve as an oasis for our sponsored kids, who come from broken homes and instability.

Once they arrived at the gymnasium, Renée found a big group of kids watching performers do exercise routines for the children to learn and then copy. Something special set up by the principal to reward the students for good attendance, they snapped, stomped, shook, and jumped in place on the floor of the big gym, with its shiny floors and new mats and bleachers. Renée could tell the children were having a fabulous time, and she once again found herself feeling thankful that these children, who had enough to worry about at home, living in poverty, have a lovely school to enjoy.

*Names changed for children’s protection.

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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.

Leaving India and Sri Lanka

After spending two weeks visiting eleven of our affiliated projects in India and Sri Lanka, knowing that the St. Mary’s Girls’ Hostel in Khammam was the last home I would be seeing on my trip left me with a bittersweet feeling. India and Sri Lanka are both full of beauty, diverse cultures, and wonderful people who face extreme hardship every day. Sri Lanka has suffered greatly from natural disasters and decades of civil war; India suffers from overpopulation and dire poverty caused by gender inequality and disparities in income.

Despite how difficult it was to see so many people living in desperate conditions there, I had grown fond of both countries. I learned so much about what our amazing volunteer coordinators are doing to educate our sponsored children, and to give them a better chance at living successful lives.

A home for the disabled

The St. Mary’s Girls’ Hostel is located in South India in the rice-producing state of Telangana. The Church of South India opened the hostel in the small city of Khammam in 1980 to address the poverty that working-class families in the community faced. The thousands of field workers who plant and harvest rice are paid so little that they live in a state of continuous economic struggle. When the rice crops fail, as they often do during and after periods of drought or flooding, the situation for workers and their families becomes even more desperate. Even in the best of times, the rice workers are often unable to afford to send their children to school.

It was great to see Mr. Rao take so much initiative to provide skill training for the girls so that they will have better employment opportunities later in life.

When we arrived at the home, we were greeted by our Volunteer Coordinator, Mr. Rao, who explained to us that St. Mary’s was once a home for the physically disabled, including blind and deaf students. Unlike so much of India and the developing world, the home was built to accommodate people in wheelchairs. The matron of St. Mary’s, who is wheelchair-bound herself, has no difficulty navigating the walkways between the girls’ dorms, the kitchen, and the recreation rooms, thanks to the original design of the home.

As he showed us around the buildings, Mr. Rao told us that not only do the girls go to school every day, but they also are learning to make bracelets, books, and brooms – all of which are sold to the community to generate additional income to support the home and the girls. Additionally, the home offers computer and clothes-making classes and training for older girls and women who do not live there. In total, there are 27 staff members who teach all of the courses offered, which I thought was quite impressive. It was great to see Mr. Rao take so much initiative to provide skill training for the girls so that they will have better employment opportunities later in life.

Always in need of more funds

The home itself is a lovely facility – the grounds are full of lush, green tropical plants, and there is plenty of room for the girls to play. The hallways are covered with large, colorful pictures and posters of the special people, both Indians and foreigners alike, who have helped fund the work of the St. Mary’s Girls’ Hostel over the years – all of which contributed to the bright and festive atmosphere at the home.

Of the 47 girls between the ages of six and nineteen who are living in the home, forty of them are currently sponsored. Mr. Rao said that there is room for additional children, but they don’t currently have funding to enroll more young women. I realized then, one day before I was to return home, that I had heard this from each of our projects in Sri Lanka and India over the past couple of weeks – I was told by each and every one of them that they could reach even more kids with additional funding.

It was hard to hear that there are children missing out on going to school because of money – something we don’t worry about as much in the United States; but instead of focusing on the negative in my last few hours in this unique part of the world, I thought about how grateful I am for our sponsors, who send thousands of children around the globe to school every year, because they believe as much as we at Children Incorporated do that every child deserves an education.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA or SRI LANKA?

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