Be an angel for Vitamin Angels: Thoughtful Thursday

asouthernmother
May 8, 2014

Did you know that nearly 1/3 of the world’s children are undernourished? This is a contributing factor in the death of 45% of children under the age of five. A non-profit known as Vitamin Angels is working to change that.
                           

Photo Credit: Vitamin Angels 

Motherhood changes your perspective on life and people. I am blessed to be able to provide for my son, but what about other mother’s who are not so fortunate? Could you image witnessing your child suffer from being undernourished and not have the means to help?

Photo Credit: Vitamin Angels 

My son Gabe and I lived briefly in Bogota, Colombia. It was horrifying to see so many children in tattered clothing with no shoes, and then watch families scavenge our trash at night for food to feed those children. It was often overwhelming to witness; there were so many children that needed help.

Gabe’s father was born in Quayaquil, Ecuador. Families in Ecuador face struggles similar to families in Colombia. His family immigrated to the United States, but they were much more fortunate than most. Colombia and Ecuador are developing nations, and they struggle with poverty, drugs, crime, and corruption. Poverty can seem insurmountable.

I thought helplessly, “That could have been my son.”

More importantly I realized, I am a global mom and every child is “my child“. Every child no matter where they are born deserves a fair chance at living a healthy life.

Many children are a  victim of circumstance. They were born in a country to parents that struggle to do the best they can, with what they have.

Here are a few facts from UNICEF’s State of the World’s Mothers in 2012:

  • Undernutrition is a contributing factor in the deaths of nearly 2.6 million children and 100,000 mothers each year.
  • Poverty is real and the global fight against extreme poverty is far from over. 
  • Breastfeeding through the first 6 months of life is recommended, and in integral part of healthy nutrition for infants. It can be a lifesaving nutritional boost.
  • Post-natal multivitamins are essential to both mother and baby while breastfeeding.

Vitamin Angels have created a Mother’s Day campaign to celebrate motherhood.
This is their message:

At Vitamin Angels, WE LOVE MOMS.

We believe every mom deserves to give birth to happy, vibrant babies.  But some moms don’t have that chance.  Vitamins are critical for the moms we help to have safe and healthy pregnancies, and for their children to have healthy starts to life. 

This month, we’re celebrating what “Motherhood Is…” and what we believe it should be for all mothers.

It’s love and laughter. It’s challenging and rewarding. It’s LIFE CHANGING.

Celebrate motherhood with us.”

Please follow them on social media to join the conversation.
You can find them online in the links below.

                                                                                                                                                       

Please mark your calendars for a Twitter party
About Vitamin Angels:
Vitamin Angels is a non-profit organization that helps at-risk pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five gain access to vitamins and mineral their bodies need to survive, thrive, and reach their full potential.  Now in it’s 20th year, the organization is working to reach 40 million children and mothers worldwide.  Learn more at vitaminangels.org 
  • Vitamin Angels have received 6 four star ratings from Charity Navigator. 

    Real Poverty, Real Problems: Poverty Impacts Knox County Youth

    asouthernmother
    February 20, 2014

    In December, the Kentucky Youth Advocates released the KIDS COUNT County Data Book for Kentucky. The data book is a part of a study conducted by the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. It is no shock that 1 out of every 4 children in Kentucky live in poverty. Did you realize that the poverty rate in Knox County is nearly double the statewide average? According to the study approximately 1 out of every 2 students live in a household with incomes below poverty level. Knox County was ranked 116th (of Kentucky’s 120 counties) for overall child wellbeing for the entire state. Neighboring Counties Bell, Clay, and Harlan also did not score well, ranking 113th, 120th, and 106th respectively.

    The study focused on four key areas: economic security, education, health, and family and community. Economic security results were based upon four key areas: number of children living in poverty, teens who are not enrolled in school and are not working, parental employment rate, and higher home rental burden. Statewide, only Martin County had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than Knox County, at an estimated 56.3 percent. It was calculated that 65% of Knox County residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs to include rent or mortgage and utilities. Ultimately, Knox was ranked 117th for economic security in this study. The study also raised a number of issues about the existing Social Security benefits system. For example, the majority of families claimed to be unaware of provisions for children and Social Security survivors benefits that can be claimed by bereaved families. A similar sense of confusion also seems to surround eligibility for Social Security Disability payments. In case you were not already aware, in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have held qualifying employment for a certain period of time. Moreover, as the resources on the Crest SSD website explain, in addition to work credits, you must also be able to prove that you suffer from a totally disabling condition that prevents you from working. Consequently, more resources need to be made available that can point vulnerable families in the direction of financial support during times of crisis. Financial problems can be worrying and people can often be too embarassed to look for help. However, there is always help and advice available. For example, those who require help can seek support. Those needing advice could get advice on saving or even investing. For families who want more financial security, there is always the option of investing in cryptocurrencies. Perhaps some people could even look into getting a Mycelium Wallet to manage their Bitcoin. This could help families to have more financial stability in the future.



    The education rankings were rated using the percentage of children enrolled in preschool, 4th graders’ proficiency in reading, 8th graders’ proficiency math, and percentage of high school students graduating on time. These four factors placed Knox County 120th in the education rankings. The numbers are not based solely upon Knox County Public School students, but also included Barbourville Independent and Corbin Independent students. Kentucky public preschool programs have rigid requirements for enrollment. Three year olds must have a demonstrated disability or developmental delay to enroll in a County preschool program, while four year olds without disabilities or delays must meet income requirements. Head Start has similar but less rigid requirements, yet 80% of 3 and 4 year olds in Knox County are not enrolled in a preschool program. Knox County School District Preschool Coordinator Charlotte McCoy stated that, “In more affluent counties such as Oldham County, parents pay for private preschool for the children who do not qualify for public preschool. In Knox County, where the poverty rate is much higher, the parents are not able to afford the luxury of private preschool.” It can be difficult for children to catch up to other students when they essentially start behind. McCoy further stated that, “Research such as the Perry Preschool Project has shown that a quality preschool program has a significant impact on future educational success. Preschool addresses the five domains of child development: social, cognitive, adaptive, motor, and communication. Any potential delays in the five developmental domains are usually already identified and the child has already began to receive intervention in preschool for the delays.” Children who are given access to preschool programs are better prepared to start kindergarten. The only solution is expanded preschool access; the majority of Knox County families are unable to pay for preschool programs.

    While nearly 66% of 4th graders were not proficient in reading, and 72% of 8th graders were not proficient in math, the study pointed out that on-time high school graduation rates were much higher than expected. Roughly 12% of Knox County high school students did not graduate on time, which is a much smaller percentage compared to many other counties with greater reading and math proficiencies. This implies that either students are making significant improvements in high school, or students are graduating with minimal proficiency. The result is students are unprepared to successfully start college and require remedial coursework if they even enroll.

    The highest ranking for Knox came in the category of health with a rank of 87th in that category. While the Knox County teen pregnancy rate is still very high compared to other counties, and an estimated 38% of women smoked during her pregnancy; Knox children fared better in other subcategories of health. Enough struggling women were able to go to a pregnancy center to help with their unplanned pregnancy. County wide there were fewer low-birthweight babies and fewer childhood asthma-related hospital admissions. Bell County had one of the highest rates for childhood inpatient hospitalizations for asthma related symptoms.

    The final category of the study was Family and Community. Knox County ranked 107th. Factors taken into account were: percentage of children living in a high poverty area, percentage of birth mothers having a high school degree, number of children living with someone other than a first degree relative, and youth incarceration rates. All children in Knox County regardless of family income live in a high poverty area. Knox County Public School District falls under a Community Eligibility Option for free breakfast and lunch. This helps local families by ensuring that school age children receive two healthy meals a day during the school year, and allowing parents to stretch their food budget.
    Data for the entire U.S. is available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org. The site enables users to access data not included on the study, and you can view countywide data as well as data by school district. The Kentucky data is available in PDF format on the web at http://kyyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2013_KYKidsCount_FINAL.pdf.
    The statistics are disparaging. What does the future hold for the children of Knox County?

    Nelson Mandela: Why was He Important to Kentucky Youth?

    asouthernmother
    December 12, 2013

    Photo Credit: ABC News
    At the Make Poverty History rally in Trafalgar Square, Nelson Mandela said, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”  

    On December 5, the South African anti-Apartheid leader, politician, and humanitarian Nelson Mandela died in Johannesburg.  Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement.  He was released from prison on February 11, 1990.  Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president of South Africa on May 10, 1994.  In 1993, Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace prize for their efforts toward ending apartheid and creating a democratic government in South Africa.  

    Photo Credit: United Nations Foundation

    Nelson Mandela was equally committed to poverty alleviation.  While in office Mandela donated one-third of his presidential salary to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.  The fund was created to help youth facing poverty and homelessness in South Africa.  He devoted his life following his release from prison to humanitarian causes.  In 1995, he spoke to an audience of 22,000 people at the rally for Make Poverty History.  Later that year, the United Nations would introduce the Millennium Development Goals toward poverty reduction.  


    Poverty has no boundaries.  Kentucky is not immune to the same problems as South Africa.  Kentucky is the fifth poorest state in the United States, and nearly 19.4 percent of Kentuckians live below the poverty line in 2012.  Poverty in Knox County is exceedingly worse, with nearly double or 36 percent of residents live below the poverty line.  It is estimated 44 percent of children in Kentucky live below poverty level.   In 2011 Knox County was the sixth lowest in the state of Kentucky for median household income. 

    A 2012 study by Kentucky Youth Advocates ranked Knox County 116th out of 120 counties for child wellbeing.  The factors studied were economic security, education, wealth, and family and community involvement.  All areas of Knox County have been heavily affected by poverty; from Kay Jay to Brown’s Branch poverty is apparent.  Substandard housing with inadequate plumbing and insulation contribute to chronic health issues.  A home should be a safe haven, but frigid winter weather leaves children vulnerable in their own homes.  Winter coats, hats, and gloves are a luxury for many, when they should be a necessity for everyone.  

    Childhood obesity should not be synonymous with food insecurity, but it is.  Children in low income households are nearly twice as likely to be obese as children from higher income families.  Cheaper and non-nutritious foods are loaded with calories, and they are often much less expensive.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats are often considered an extravagance. 

    The study ranked Knox 120th for childhood education wellness.  The issues are apparent, it is not the intelligence of our youth which achieves such rankings.  The affects of growing up in poverty greatly contribute to the ranking.  Children who are well nourished, have stable housing, and their basic needs met, perform better in school.  

    Photo Credit: Unknown 
    Knox County needs their own Nelson Mandela.  They need youth which are inspired to greatness.  We need leaders which are devoted to improving poverty and equality within the county.  Food insecurity breeds inequality.  We create man-made disadvantages.

    Nelson Mandela lived on another continent nearly half the world away, but his teachings were universal.  He said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  Parents should teach their children about leaders such a Nelson Mandela.  He had courage and faith, even at his grimmest hour.  He fought tirelessly for years under severe oppression.  Nelson Mandela committed his life to the service of others.  When will our own “Nelson Mandela” arrive? We are awaiting the great generation.  

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    Will a Stolen Childhood Inspire a “Girl Rising”?

    This was a face of innocence and trust.  She loves going to church, reading books, and playing with her cousins.  She had her dads eyes and his ability to steal your heart.  She stole my heart the moment she entered this world and I am just her Aunt.  We both now share a very open wound, she lost her father at the hands of someone she should have been able to trust, and I lost my beloved brother.  

    Photo courtesy of Jessica Urgelles Photograpy

    She is one of countless girls in our nation and around the world who had her innocence taken.  Could you image being 6 years old and having your father murdered by your step grandfather following a domestic violence altercation with your grandmother?  No girl should ever have to endure such  a heartbreak, and certainly not at such a tender age.  She dealt with her emotions with maturity beyond her years.  When I wanted to completely fall apart, I held it together for her.  We sat graveside in front of his casket.  We shared our goodbyes and I was heartbroken when she asked for me to kneel next to her to pray.  She prayed with passion and fervor, asking for God’s comfort and mercy.  

    I prayed for healing.  I was so angry.  I lost my brother but my nieces had lost their father.  Would they remember him?  They would never remember his contagious laugh or his kind smile.  They had their childhood stolen, and I was powerless to stop it.  

    Did you know that 1 in 4 women around the world will experience domestic violence in her lifetime?  The women of my family were robbed of a loved one by someone we should have been able to trust.  It would be easy to let grief, anger, and hate consume me.  I can’t let my brothers death be in vain.  I want his legacy to be of kindness, hope, and charity.  He lives on in the people who loved him, by our words and actions.  

    My hope is that no one would ever need such a heartbreaking personal experience to inspire them.  We can draw our inspiration from the people around us, hear their stories, feel their passion, and let it lead us to be a stronger society.  

    My passion was renewed recently.  I attended a screening of the 10×10 film, Girl Rising.  The stories are powerful and poignant.  The issues discussed are a reality for girls everywhere.  Poverty, domestic violence, human trafficking, slavery, lack of educational opportunities, and child marriage are real.  The girls face unimaginable challenges.   They found triumph in their hardships and an astounding courage to fight not just for themselves, but to inspire girls around them.  

    Image courtesy of www.10x10act.org 


    I connected with Senna from La Rinconada, Peru.  She was the daughter to a gold miner who perished from complications of working in the mines.  I am the granddaughter and great granddaughter of a coal miners which you can read about in a previous post, You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.  She shared many of the same struggles that my own family did thousands of miles from her in Harlan, Kentucky.  My family did not endure the same harsh living conditions but they shared struggles for food, clothing, and the general brutal working conditions of a mine.  

    I encourage everyone to find a local screening of Girl Rising and attend.  The girls are real and their stories are inspiring.  The proceeds from the film benefit several organizations including the United Nations Foundation Girl Up campaign.  The girls will renew your hope in humanity.  They are living proof that optimism and good can come from despair and evil.  

    My hope is that my niece is a “girl rising”.   I hope that I can encourage and inspire her to turn a tragedy into a triumph.  I like to think that my brother is watching over us with pride and awe.  His legacy will not die with us, he lives on in this story and in our acts of kindness.  

    Please visit www.girlrising.com to learn more about the girls and the film.  You can locate the closest screening or email them to help organize a screening in your area.  We are presently working to organization another screening in Lexington, Kentucky, and if you would like further information please feel free to contact me.    

    You can also visit www.girlup.org to learn more about one of the films impact partners the United Nations Foundation Girl Up campaign. Inspired by this post?  Get involved with the Global Mom Relay which helps to benefit Girl Up and several other UN Foundation campaigns including www.shotatlife.org

    “Inspire a girl and change her world.”  

    Happy Witty Wednesday,
    XOXO
    ~Jess 

    Leaving Harlan Alive

    asouthernmother
    January 25, 2013

     

    You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive is one of my favorite songs performed by Brad Paisley (and I am still ticked he did not perform it the last time I saw him at Rupp Arena).  It has special meaning to me.  It is about the long and hard road that many coal miners in Harlan, Kentucky (and across this region) face.  I am proud to be a coal miners daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter (and niece, better not forget my uncle Mike).  I was born because my grandfather left Harlan alive.  

    Most of the nation became familiar with Harlan, Kentucky not from a Brad Paisley song but from the television show Justified.  Who doesn’t love a little US Marshall Raylan Givens?  Although Harlan and its residents aren’t portrayed in the most flattering light, it brought attention to an area I hold dear to my heart.  Nearly 13% of the employed population in Harlan works for the Coal industry.  They are plagued with the same problems that much of southeastern Kentucky is ridden with.  A lack of jobs, poverty, and drugs are just a few of the socioeconomic disadvantage which trouble a beautiful mountainous landscape.
     

    I have the utmost respect for coal miners, especially those who work in some of the harshest conditions possible just to provide a basic existence for their families.  They often struggle day in and day out just to “make ends meet” and they never give up.  Mining isn’t a safe profession either.  I have heard the gossip down in the mining camps following an accident, and seen the worry consume them, hoping it wasn’t one of their own.  It was a realistic fear for many mining families, which often had grandfathers, fathers, brothers, siblings, cousins, etc. working in the same mine.  

    Coal Miners memorial Harlan Kentucky


    I can’t and won’t take sides in the great debate about the coal industry in Kentucky.  My grandfather suffers from Black Lung and melanoma, a lifetime in the mines is hard on the body.  Mining kept my family in existence.  Mining still helps sustain many families across the region.  Why would you take away the job openings of those willing to work?  Especially in counties such as Harlan where according to the US census bureau 31% of residents live below poverty level , which is double the poverty average for the entire state.  It is even more heartbreaking that half of those residents live on much, much less than poverty level income.  

    Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”  

                 Nelson Mandela 


    I can remember as a child traveling the winding road up KY highway 119 once a month to visit my family in Harlan.  It was a long and often car sick ridden trip for a young child.  My great grandparents George Sr and Lucy Peace, and I believe their parents too are buried on a hillside in rural Harlan Kentucky.  They never left Harlan alive.  I have been back very few times since their death.  My grandfather left for another mining camp in Kay Jay, Kentucky, where he lives to this day.  I think the only time he left was for his tour in the Korean War.  His body weakened and damaged from years in the coal mines, but forever grateful that he provided a home for his family.  My dad worked very briefly in the mines, and we lived in rural southwest Virginia while he did.  He is now a successful barber in Knox County, Kentucky.  

    My grandparents, George Jr. and Norma Logan Peace


    I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.  It isn’t often highly regarded a profession, but how many people sacrifice their health and safety to provide a very meager existence?  My grandfather isn’t a rich man by worldly means, but he worked hard, loves God, taught me to harm no other living creature (unless you plan to eat it) and is genuinely kind to all that he meets.  It isn’t be hard to be proud to be a coal miners (grand) daughter when you have a grandfather like him, and especially since he left Harlan alive!  


    Cold and hungry..

    asouthernmother
    January 24, 2013

    I was walking my french bulldog Escobar this morning, I shivered and thought to myself this is too cold!  I thought about all the kids standing out waiting on their school buses, my friends and old co-workers at the University of Kentucky hospital who have a long walk in the mornings, and anyone else who had to walk their dog.  I gave myself a quick reality check, I really have no idea what it is like to be truly cold.  I have been cold by choice but never from lack of necessity.  Most of us never know what it is like to be truly cold or hungry.

    Escobar and I, such a spoiled puppy

     The coldest I have ever been was running the Maysville Tough Mudder in October.  My teeth chattered and I covered my hands in mud to keep them warm.  There were others treated for hypothermia that day but we all made the choice to be there.  When have you been cold that you didn’t have access to a blanket, adequate shoes, clothing, or heat?  What about hunger?  When was the last time you were truly hungry?  I don’t mean stomach growling hungry, but instead when your stomach aches in pain from days without adequate food.  There are children and families within your own community, state, our wonderful nation, and across the world that go without basic necessities.
     

    I was laughing in an attempt to keep from freezing following a dip in the arctic enema at the Tough Mudder

    I am as guilty as the next with having more than I need.   I tend to focus on wants instead of true needs. There are shelters in need of lots of things that are laying around our homes.  You can donate your old coats, shoes, and clothing to various local organizations that can distribute to those in need.  They are often also in need of towels and bedding.

    Clean out your pantry before things expire.  While I was living in Bogota, Colombia, I got to see first hand what hunger looked like.  People digging through the trash set out at night looking for food that wasn’t too spoiled to eat.  The thought of wasting food while others went hungry truly sickened me.  Few people have seen the heartbreak of looking out your window and watching someone plunder through rubbish looking for food.  There is enough food in this world wasted that no one should ever go hungry.

    There are so many organization on the local, national, and international level that focus on poverty.  Recently an organization called RESULTS was brought to my attention.  They focus on poverty within the home front and abroad.  Food banks, shelters, and community centers are often a very good local start.

    You might not be able to change the world but you could change someone else’s life.  I hope todays post inspired a little good and made you rethink about ever complaining about being cold or hungry.

    XOXO

    Jessica

    A Testament of Hope

    asouthernmother
    January 21, 2013

    I am sure Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrating today, we have made incredible steps toward equality since his murder.  Every U.S. citizen should be celebrating our freedom today.  He gave his life so that others could have equal rights and freedoms, he was a martyr for his cause.  I think U.S. citizens regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, etc. often fail to recognize how lucky we are compared to citizens of many other countries.  We have freedoms that many people still only dream about.  When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, do you think he fathomed we would get this far?

    There is a quote, “I am better than I was yesterday but not as good as I will be tomorrow.”

    The United States has made steady improvements toward equality but there is still work to be done.  There is a large sector of the U.S. that is socioeconomically disadvantaged regardless of race or ethnicity.  Poverty is heartbreaking.  We should all do our part to help others.  You may not have money to donate but why can’t you donate your time?  There are countless ways to help.  If you want a few ideas, volunteer with your local Habitat for Humanity, drop off items you are no longer using to a local charity, volunteer at a food bank, or organize a dinner at your local Ronald McDonald House.  These are just a few ideas of how you could help make a difference in the life of someone else, while setting an example for others to follow.

    I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our nation is a much better place thanks to his courage and innovation.

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 
     Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.


    “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

    “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 
     Martin Luther King Jr.

    XOXO
    ~Jessica