As the dismal economic news mounts for the folks in Eastern Kentucky, the challenge facing Mission of Hope, a Christian charity that serves the neediest families in Appalachia, grows more daunting.
But MOH Executive Director Emmette Thompson and his supporters remain committed to breaking the cycle of poverty. Their strategy? The power of education.
“We know that education is essential for the children of Appalachia,” Thompson said. “Too many of them don’t even finish high school.
“We believe that education will allow opportunity and a better way of life.”
MOH, which is based in Knoxville, supports education with two major initiatives – the Back to School Backpack & School Supplies Program and the Mission of Hope Scholarship Program.
August is a busy month for MOH and its legion of volunteers. For the 17th consecutive year, MOH will travel to 27 schools – 15 of them in Kentucky – to help more than 11,500 kids start the school year with a backpack full of school supplies.
At the schools MOH reaches, almost all of the children are on free or reduced lunch. Without MOH’s help, many children would attend school without pencils, pens, notebooks, crayons and other necessities.
So 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.
Each sixth grader in turn is asked to sign a pledge vowing to earn a high school diploma.
It’s a magical day for the children, whose smiling faces reflect their appreciation. It’s also a special day for the volunteers.
“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,” said John Lynch, Editor of Lexington Family Magazine.
He and his staff have volunteered at Letcher County Elementary School for the past few years.
“We hope that in our small way we can make a difference for these children.”
Thompson points out that each child helped has ripple effects throughout the community.
“You can pass on bad habits and perpetuate the cycle of poverty or you can pass on good habits,” he said.
“We hope that if one child finishes high school and maybe goes on to college, he or she will likely encourage education in their children, who will be more apt to finish high school and attend college.”
Mission of Hope collects supplies all year at its warehouse in Knoxville and relies on cash donations to cover the more than $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,” Thompson said.
“For many students this is the only opportunity they ever get to ‘shop’ for their own supplies.”
Along with the Backpack Program, this school year marks the sixth installment of the Hope Scholars program, in which 13 graduating seniors from school districts that MOH serves are awarded $2,500 scholarships.
There are 51 active members in the program, and 11 have graduated with two- or four-year degrees. One Scholar will attend graduate school this year.
MOH hosts an annual appreciation dinner where the new Hope Scholars are surprised with a new laptop, printer and cover.
To support these efforts, MOH relies on volunteers and the generous help of donors.
Said Thompson: “We truly could not accomplish our programs without the dedication and compassionate support of our friends who help us spread the Hope.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
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, P.O. Box 51824, Knoxville, TN, 37950
(877) 627-1909 or (865) 584-7571 / www.missionofhope.org