Education: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Appalachia

MOH-Emmette-in-BlackeyMission of Hope, a Christian ministry that serves the neediest families in Appalachia, embraces an ambitious mandate – reverse the cycle of poverty that has spanned generations in rural Kentucky and Tennessee.

Most kids, even the ones who aren’t fond of school, love getting new school supplies.

But no one seems to enjoy getting new pens, paper and crayons more than the kids who are served by the Mission of Hope’s Back to School Backpack Program.

Or at least that’s the impression Lexington Family Magazine staff members got last year when they traveled to Blackey in Letcher County to help hand out new school supplies with Mission of Hope.

As volunteers, we lined up to give the kids an all-star greeting with applause and high fives as they entered the gym.

Then we took each child through the line of supplies to pick their own brand new backpack and fill it with supplies for the school year.

Now in its 16th year, MOH will travel this month to 27 schools – 15 of them in Kentucky – to help more than 11,000 kids start the school year with a backpack full of school supplies.

The backpacks include pencils, pens, crayons, folders, scissors, glue sticks and hygiene products.

At each school, a team of volunteers sets up a Back to School “store.”

Each volunteer takes a child by the hand and helps him or her fill up a backpack with school materials.

It’s a magical day for the children, whose smiling faces reflect their appreciation. It’s also a special day for the volunteers.

Lexington Family Magazine’s editor, John Lynch, spearheaded our efforts to help in 2012.

“Mission of Hope’s goal to support education by helping children start the school year right is an effort that anyone with a heart can appreciate,” he said.

“We hope that in our small way we can make a difference for these children.”

Mission of Hope collects supplies all year at its warehouse in Knoxville and relies on cash donations to cover the $100,000 cost of the program.

“Again, as in past years, we have stepped out on faith that God will provide the resources we need,” said Emmette Thompson, MOH’s executive director.

“For many students this is the only opportunity they ever get to ‘shop’ for their own supplies.”

But handing out supplies is not the only goal of Mission of Hope.

As part of the program, MOH asks each sixth grader who receives supplies to take the “Sixth Graders Pledge to Graduate High School.”

Additionally, this school year marks the fifth installment of the Mission of Hope Scholars program, in which 13 graduating seniors from school districts that MOH serves are awarded one-time, $2,500 scholarships. There are 50 active members of the program.

At an annual appreciation dinner, the new Hope Scholars are surprised with a new laptop, printer and cover.

“We know that education is essential for the children of Appalachia,” Thompson said. “Too many of them don’t even finish high school.

“We encourage children to get a high school degree and perhaps even a college education.

“We know that education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty. ”

For all of its missions, MOH relies on the help of volunteers who offer time and donations.

Said Thompson: “We truly could not accomplish our programs without the dedication and compassionate support of our friends who help us spread the Hope.”


Make a donation to the Mission of Hope education fund. Or make a donation in memory of, or in honor of, a family friend or loved one.
Info: Mission of Hope, 2901 Richmond Road #130, Box 205 Lexington, KY 40509 / (877) 627-1909 /