The debate over the ABC program "A Hidden America, Children of the Mountains" continues. Many argue the program did not show enough about the positive things happening in eastern Kentucky.
During our special one-hour Issues and Answers program, we talked to five people involved in organizations helping people break the cycle of poverty. They say there is a way to get ahead, but people have to want it.
Some say the national spotlight on children in Appalachia missed a few important things about the mountains. These community leaders says the help is out there for most of these families.
Greg Bentley, President of RAM Kentucky says, "We need to get back to instilling some dreams, some goals for these people and aspire to go higher."
Sheldon Clark high school teacher Bob Allen says education is an important tool. "I think that's the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. It is education. We have to teach kids that it is their way out. And it may be their only way out."
Other programs like the remote area medical clinic, known as RAM, offers free medical, dental, and eye care. Local doctors say the program is not a hand out, but a hand up. "It's the ones that fall in between the cracks and have no insurance and have minimum wage jobs or can't pay the co-pay or can't pay the deductible. That's the kind of people we see at RAM," says Dr. Bill Collins.
Jenny Saylor works with a Harlan County family resource center and sees the need every day. But she says she is worried about financial support that is slowly getting cut. "We got $210 per child. Now we're down to $204 per child. And there's talk about cutting more, and maybe even cutting resources. And if they do that, I don't know what Harlan County will do."
"These kids are survivors. They would be more apt to survive than I would, because that's their way of life. And they do whatever for younger brothers and sisters, older brothers and sisters, they look out for each other," says Stacey Sheppard. Her group "the Backpack Club" packs 1,400 bags of food each week for students in Laurel County that do not get sufficient food when they go home for the weekend. Sheppard and the other leaders say programs like these will help the children of the mountains rise above the stereotypes.
Jenny Saylor says she is also working with a business owner in tennessee to build a clothing factory in cumberland that would bring more jobs to the area.