A week ago, Shawn Grim was without a job, without a car, living up close to the family problems he had tried hard to outdistance. Today, the only thing that has changed is hope.
"I'm just grateful and thankful that everybody is doing for me. I hope it turns out for the good," said Grim, who has been overwhelmed with offers of help since he was featured on episode of ABC's 20/20 called A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains.
Grim, a promising football player from Johnson Central High in Paintsville, worked tirelessly to escape his family's cycle of addiction and poverty, only to drop out of college. His story, along with those of two Eastern Kentucky girls with similar backgrounds, resonated with the country.
Some $60,000 has been collected by the Christian Appalachian Project, which is helping all three, since the program aired Friday. The makers of Mountain Dew announced Tuesday that they will provide Eastern Kentucky dentist Edwin Smith with a mobile dental lab.
Never miss a local story.
"There has just been an incredible outpouring," said Sue Sword, a vice president at CAP.
The money is from donations through the charity's Web site, Sword said. Donors provide for the group's broader needs or designate that they want their money to go to an individual from the 20/20 episode: Grim, 18, of Flat Gap; Erica, 11, of Cumberland; and Courtney, 12, of Inez (the last names of the girls have not been released by ABC News).
The special edition of 20/20, anchored by Kentucky native Diane Sawyer, has roused a mixed reaction from people in Eastern Kentucky. Some say it put a light on a problem-plagued part of the country, and others say it dealt primarily in stereotypes.
Grim's story has especially struck a chord with those wanting to help, Sword said. Jim Matney, Grim's coach at Johnson Central, said he is receiving hundreds of e-mails and phone calls offering assistance.
ABC News reported that Grim has received scholarship offers from Union College, the University of the Cumberlands and the University of Louisville. Pikeville College also extended a scholarship offer but Grim declined, school administrators said Tuesday.
"My goal is to go back to college," Grim said in an interview Tuesday. "I don't know which college yet." Grim, who hopes to return to the football field, said he wants to carefully evaluate his choices. Grim said he met with representatives of CAP for several hours Monday and Tuesday to sort through the offers.
Although he is living with his family, he said, he watched the show on the Internet at a friend's house.
He is hoping something positive can come out of it for the whole family.
Sword said members of the Christian Appalachian Project, which has been working in the region for decades, will set up a fund for Grim and continue to help him consider his options. Funds and similar assistance will be offered to the girls, Sword said.
According to ABC News, Erica has been offered tutoring, and a neighbor has volunteered to repair her family's fire-damaged home. Courtney and her family have received donations of clothing, and a California family is sending her the Hannah Montana boots she said she wanted in the report, according to ABC.
About $2,500 has already been donated to the fund in Erica's name, said Karen Engle, executive director of Operation UNITE, which set up the fund for her. The money can be used only for educational or wellness purposes, she said. Her hope, she said, is that there eventually could be enough money donated to cover the cost of college.
There have been several calls to the Kids First Dental Lab, a mobile dentistry practice that was featured in the report. Smith said money has been pledged, toothbrushes offered and some dental professionals have offered their time.
"This is what I was hoping would happen from the show," said Smith.
The report referred to the rotting of children's teeth because of excessive soda drinking as "Mountain Dew mouth." On Tuesday, PepsiCo's CEO told ABC that the company will help recruit more dentists in Appalachia and will give Smith another mobile lab for his work. The original mobile lab cost $150,000 to buy and $500,000 a year to operate, Smith said.
At Homecoming Church in Calf Creek Hollow, near Inez, the phone has never rung so much as in the past few days. In the 20/20 episode, the church was reported as having a Sunday collection of $1.85. "It looks like we are going to get plenty of help," said pastor Elmer Harris. "I've gotten calls from New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, California, just about everywhere."
He has received pledges for new carpeting, audio equipment for the church, food, clothing and cash. His first effort, he said, is setting up a soup kitchen and a food bank.
"Lord knows we need the help," said Harris, who added that only one member of his congregation, which draws about 75 for Sunday services, works a steady job.