Welcome to Barbourville
It’s hard to paint an original picture of Barbourville, Kentucky – a small city of about 3,000 residents plopped down in southeastern Kentucky near the Tennessee border. A few strip malls line the main highway on the drive in, hiding the heart of town and tiny Union College from view. Like many other Appalachian communities, it’s isolated from its big city brethren and suburban sisters by the stubborn geographic barriers that surround it and the harsh economic realities that dominate the landscape within it.
While the original KFC lies about 20 miles down the road in Corbin, Kentucky, there are no famous landmarks to speak of in Barbourville – at least none that your average passerby would recognize. But there are a few people here you really should get to know. They aren’t famous (at least not yet), but to the folks that spend time with them day-in and day-out, they’re big-time rock stars.
They are the residents and staff of the Appalachian Children’s Home.
A Sanctuary in the Hillside
The story of Appalachian Children’s Home (ACH) is symbolic of the kids that pass through its care – it’s one of resiliency. The not-for-profit was established in 1949 to take care of children whose home lives had become a serious threat and detriment to their physical and/or mental well-being. Despite all the good ACH offered, the facility fell on hard times in the 1990s and was in danger of closing its doors for good. In 2001, a military drill instructor-turned-businessman-turned-fundraiser named Steve Yeary accepted the unenviable task of turning around the floundering foundation.
Yeary did just that.
ACH now operates debt-free with 60 employees and a very secure financial future. Yeary has helped the state-licensed residential facility acquire national and international accreditation as well, a major factor in securing the funding necessary to support the 40-to-50 children housed there at any given time.
The campus itself is quite large – 158 acres-large. That 158 acres is home to an on-premise school (with teachers rotating in from a local district), horses for the children to take care of (with plenty of area to ride), an auditorium, cafeteria, boys and girls dorms, a workout facility and weight room, places for kids to learn, practice and play instruments (with instructors on-hand), an onsite hair salon, trails to hike, and a pond to fish.
All of that sounds like a lot – and it is – but given the magnitude of the challenge these amenities aim to overcome, it’s still sometimes not enough.
Realities and Dreams
Children staying with ACH aren’t there by choice. They often come from abusive or neglectful households and arrive with little, if anything, to their name. They range in age from 10 to 17 years old. For many, it’s not their first new home. All of these factors combined can create any number of psychological and behavioral issues. And why not? These are hardships no child is meant to endure.
But endure they must. There isn’t a choice. For Yeary and the rest of the staff – a devoted, passionate and selfless team – the ultimate goal for each child is college. But that isn’t always realistic, and they know it. For a majority of the young adults here, turning 18 means turning the page – no more school, no more ACH. It’s for this day that Yeary, the staff and all those facilities and amenities are attempting to prepare the kids. And it’s in this capacity that Gift1 is hoping to help.
Presently, the children have access to the initial donation of Gift1 tablets on a daily, but limited basis. They’re used primarily as a means of entertainment, but even in that function, they are serving a much larger purpose. For many of the kids, this is the only time they get to use, on a personal basis, this technology. This routine exposure is invaluable in helping them familiarize themselves with programs, software and functionalities that are common in a workplace they will have to join on some not-so-distant day.
With the addition of more tablets to th
eir collection, Yeary hopes to extend their impact beyond the confines of the facility. It’s his goal to give, not just loan, a tablet to every ACH alum that earns his or her way into college. It would be one final gift ACH could bestow upon their young adults to help them succeed in the final act of their youth.
For its part, the tablet is a tool, and just a small way Gift1 can help a hard childhood journey beget a happy adult ending. It can aid in developing necessary skills in an increasingly digital society and it can be a great asset for communication and connectivity, but that will only carry a person so far. The rest is in the hands and heart of the individual using it.
A Story of Resilience
The kids at ACH have their good days and they have their bad days, but what can never be questioned is their heart. For some of them, it may be hard to see, but the fact is they have persevered to this point despite the circumstances they were dealt. And tomorrow is a new day.
Recently, the Gift1 team had a chance to visit with the children and staff at ACH and take a tour of the grounds. The place was impressive, but the children more so. They were excited to share their home with us. Mostly, they were inquisitive. Many had never been to a big city, and to them, Cincinnati was a big city. They asked us about skyscrapers, taxi cabs and what was home to us.
A small group of staff and children accompanied us to lunch at a local restaurant. It was the first time some of the kids ever had Mexican food. As we finished our meal, Yeary told them we were going to write a story about the home, and asked the kids what they thought we were going to say about them. One of the girls, 14, answered.
“Probably something like, ‘She smiles on the outside, but is sad on the inside,’” she replied.
While she was indeed smiling beautifully on the outside, I won’t pretend to know how she feels on the inside. Sad? Maybe. But there was something else going on behind the smile that was apparent: a quiet strength, accompanied by a resilience that arises when the only other option is defeat. And in a small corner of that smile, a tinge of hope.
She’s a fighter. They are fighters. And tomorrow is a new day.
You can help the kids and college hopefuls at the Appalachian Children’s Home get the tools they need to build a successful future when you purchase a tablet at $150 or more through Gift1.