'Children of the Mountains' Get Help

Shawn Grim, 18, tries to fight his way out of his dysfunctional family in the mountains by becoming the high school football star of Appalachia, while sleeping in a truck.

Jeremy, 18, makes a decision to accept a life down inside the mines, and Erica, 11, is forced to grow up too quickly, trying over and over again to save her mother's life.

'Mountains Are Like Your Mother's Arms'

For generations, poets and musicians like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dwight Yoakum have been inspired by the majestic beauty of the land that spreads across 13 states and has towns named "Lovely," "Beauty" and "Kingdom Come."

"I think the mountains are like your mother's arms around you. They're holding you in one place," said Whitesburg, Ky., resident Nell Fields.

Forty-one years ago, Robert F. Kennedy traveled to eastern Kentucky to bring attention to a part of the country that desperately needed help.

At that time, almost 60 percent of families in Appalachian Kentucky fell below the poverty level. The average per capita income for the region was only $841, more than a third lower than the national average.

Today, there have been improvements in the region and many communities are flourishing. Highways now link the mountain towns to cities in the valley, and reduce what used to be day-long trips to a matter of hours. One-room schoolhouses have been replaced by fully-equipped buildings, all of which has helped pull up national achievment rankings. But roughly 40 percent of Appalachia's population in the hills and hollows remains stuck in poverty, still searching for the road to success.

Shawn: 'I Don't Want to Mess Up'

At the start of his senior year, Grim led the state of Kentucky in touchdowns. The star of his high school football team, the Johnson Central Golden Eagles, hoped to use his football prowess to win a scholarship to college.

Grim's family lives in a hollow in Flat Gap, Ky., where thievery and alcoholism are rampant. He was so eager to break away that he moved out of the family's trailer.

"The whole entire hollow is nothing but family, and all of them hate each other, so it's all fighting," he said.

He wanted to be the first in his family to graduate from high school.

"I want to go out here and I want to make everybody proud of me," he said. "And I want to make everybody happy that I'm actually trying something and doing something with my life, and I don't want to mess up."

Over the two years that ABC News spent with Grim, he moved at least eight times. He stayed with assorted friends and relatives and sometimes even slept in his beat-up red truck.

In the trailer in Flat Gap, Grim's mother Tina proudly pointed out the cabinet filled with her son's trophies and showed off scrapbooks of his successes to visitors.

"I want him to have something to pass down to his kids when he does have them," she said.

She also took out the family prescription pills that she locks away with her prized coin collection. If she tried to sell them, she said, these doctor-prescribed pills for nerve and back pain could go for $120 per bottle.

"I lock up all my pain medication and my nerve pills, so that way I don't got to worry anybody else stealing 'em off me," she said.

Grim's football coach and mentor, Jim Matney, does what he can to help Grim succeed. Matney was born in the mountains and traded his high school wrestling skills for a college scholarship. He returned to his hometown and has been coaching for 27 years.

Page
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...