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ABC News report on region brings help as debate rages




FRANKFORT

People have reacted with generosity to a report from ABC’s “20/20” on poverty and related issues in central Appalachia.

The newsmagazine reported Feb. 20 that a Kentucky college has given a football scholarship to a homeless eastern Kentucky teen featured in the report. A dentist donated dentures to a toothless woman. An unidentified donor gave Hannah Montana boots to two children who longed for a pair. And Pepsi promised a fully equipped mobile dental clinic to improve the oral health of mountain residents.

The philanthrophy resulted from the Feb. 13 report by Kentucky native Diane Sawyer who described “a place where children and families face unthinkable conditions, living without what most Americans take for granted.”

Sawyer said residents of isolated pockets in central Appalachia face abject poverty, an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, toothlessness, chronic depression and the shortest life spans in the nation.

For nearly two years, ABC News cameras followed Appalachian children for the program dubbed “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains.”

The program drew powerful reactions. Some didn’t like what they saw. Others were moved to action by it.

Former journalist Judy Owens, who covered Appalachia for more than a decade for metro newspapers in Louisville and Lexington, said the program graphically captured issues that far too many people in the region grapple with on a daily basis.

“The problem of lack of dental care and the problems affiliated with drug abuse, those problems are very real in Appalahcia,” Owens told The Associated Press. “They’re persistent. They’re pervasive. I know that there are people who either aren’t aware of these problems or who feel that making presentations about them belittle or shame people in the region. But the reality is, you can ask anyone who works in the public schools, who work in health departments, who work in doctors’ offices, who work in social service agencies; nobody who works in a capacity like that would say anything other than that the problems are as shown. What they depicted is true.”

Barbourville dentist Eddie Smith, featured in the report, showed the nation a condition he called “Mountain Dew mouth,” childhood tooth decay caused by drinking too much soda.

Smith travels the region in a mobile dental clinic, remaking the smiles of children whose teeth have been marred by decay. He was featured again this past Friday night, donating the free dentures to a toothless woman who also was on the program.

“It’s hard for us to watch, but I think if we get those problems identified and recognize them, then we’re more apt to get some of help to make it better,” Smith told the AP.

Pepsi reacted to the report by promising Smith a fully equipped mobile dental clinic to supplement the one he’s already using.

Union College, a Methodist school in Barbourville, reacted by offering the football scholarship to Shawn Grim, who was shown living in a pickup truck. ABC News reported in a followup story that Grim’s dorm room was ready and that he started classes this week.


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