We arrived in Jackson, Kentucky on Wednesday and caught up with some of the kids at LBJ Elementary School.
The children here seem like typical kids. Some are shy, some are rambunctious, but each has faced incredible hardship in their short lives. Jackson is one of the poorest parts of the state. Several have lost one or both parents to the rampant drug epidemic in the region and live with a single parent, grandparents or other caretakers.
Genevieve Swango, the family resource director and our volunteer coordinator, is in charge here. She introduces us to a shy, smiling Allison (not her real name).
Swango remarked on the relationship between Allison and her sponsor, Carol Gaunce, who lives 500 miles away, back home in Richmond, Va.
The Fourth Child
Gaunce was retired with three adult sons when she decided to add a fourth child to the family– in a way; she became Allison’s sponsor.
In addition to the food, clothes and school supplies she needs, Gaunce regularly sends gifts and letters to keep in touch.
“She’s just as cute as she can be. She’s a shy child, a first-grader,” Gaunce beams. “I write letters when I send her little things from time to time.”
Gaunce first got involved with Children Incorporated in 2014 because of her friendship with the organization’s president and CEO, Ron Carter.
“We heard a lot about what he was doing and we wanted to help,” she said. “My husband is from Kentucky and we knew that Jackson County is one of the poorest in the region.”
Gaunce and her husband Jimmie asked to sponsor a child in West Virginia or eastern Kentucky and they were assigned to Allison.
“We didn’t have any specifics,” she said. “We just wanted a child in need.”
A hard life in Appalachia
Allison is in better shape than many of the Children Incorporated kids, she said, because she has two parents and a stable home – the only thing lacking is money.
Allison, her two sisters and her parents live in a trailer up a logging road and her parents both work minimum wage jobs. That they can both find any work at all is a rare thing in the impoverished rural area, where the mining industry’s decline has left the entire region in dire straights.
“They are a loving family unit,” Gaunce said. “I would love to meet Allison and give her a hug but I don’t think she needs that – she has a good family.”
Gaunce provides support and encouragement in other ways. For example, Allison’s parents have a large garden where they grow most of their own food and Allison has a number of pet cats who live outdoors. One of the things she’s asked Gaunce for is food to help feed them, and she obliges.
“She’s very compassionate,” Gaunce smiles proudly.
Boots on the ground
Swango, our volunteer coordinator, administers our program to 28 children at this school. She identifies students most in need and works with Children Incorporated to get them day-to-day essentials.
She also acts as a go-between for sponsors and children. Gaunce sends letters and gifts to Allison through Genevieve, who checks them over before delivering them to the 7-year-old.
“I think that’s a good thing because you don’t really know what people might be sending the child,” Gaunce said. “She can open it up and make sure they’re appropriate. I like that process.”
It’s one of the things that especially pleased her about Children Incorporated.
“We just wanted a child in need.”
– Carol Gaunce, Sponsor
“Before you even sign up, you know what the program is like,” she said. “It’s very straightforward.”
Children Incorporated uses volunteer coordinators in each location to manage support efforts. The volunteers are locals – school resource counselors in Kentucky or nuns in Bolivia – and already know the children and their families well. That helps build trust among client families and ensures continuity so children can rely on continued support, both physical and emotional.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Gaunce said. “I have nothing but good things to say about it.”
‘Such great need’
For anyone considering helping children in need, Gaunce has only one piece of advice – go for it.
“There is such great need,” she said. “Don’t hold back. If it is in your heart to do it, do it.”
HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN Kentucky?
You can sponsor a child in Kentucky in one of two ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.