In and Around Hannibal: Mission to Appalachia

Rita Hooper 


As some of my readers know, I have just returned from nine days in Appalachia, specifically Tennessee and North Carolina.

I was there on a church-sponsored Mission Tour to learn about the culture and history of the area, the part the Presbyterian Church USA played and continues to play and the challenges faced by women, children and families.

I will be traveling during the next two years to talk about what I saw and learned. I went with 22 other women from all across the country, including Alaska. It was not a pleasure trip, but with 23 women, we managed to find ways to have some fun and a lot of giggles.

We visited a hospital and toured the Toothbus, we visited food pantries and clothes closets, we checked out individual water systems, met with people who offer free legal services and have 300 lawyers that volunteer their time.

Interesting to note that much of their time is spent getting people the help they are entitled to but can’t work their way through the system. We spent an afternoon in a poverty simulation which helped us to understand why the ‘system’ doesn’t work.

We sat in small groups trying to determine which housing repair applications we would accept for a group that works with volunteers that do home repairs.  These were actual applications.  The choices were not easy ones to make.

Though not mentioned specifically you can see that one of the underlying threads weaving its way through poverty is drugs.  I think the same can probably be said about our area.

We had a presentation by two pharmacy grad students from East Tn. State University who work with the program Generation Rx – a program to prevent the misuse and abuse of drugs.

Four out of the top five drugs abused by 12th graders are prescription and non-prescription medicines. Seventy percent of the folks currently abusing drugs are getting them from family and friends.

The statistics are mind boggling but probably not so very different from other states.

Another one of those threads is education. We spoke with a young woman in prison because of drugs. She has managed to get her first two years of college under her belt while incarcerated. She hopes to be a drug counselor when she’s out.

But her first words were, “Education is the key!” I wish high school kids could hear her.  She has been able to reconcile with her children and is counting her days until she’s free. She is turning her life around.

Another thread is the part politics is playing in poverty.  The sequester is bad enough but the budget cuts especially in North Carolina will have devastating effects on the poor. We have seen some of those effects in Oswego County and New York State as well.

Cutting programs to the poor doesn’t generate income and costs more in the long run. It’s cheaper to have a Toothbus go to the schools and provide dental exams and routine care for the children than it is to take care of mouth and digestion problems in the future!

There is so much to say and so little time…


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