Mount Greylock grad creates foundation to aid children in West Virginia town
WILLIAMSTOWN -- Mia DiSantis said she's always wanted to make a difference in the world, but didn't know where to start.
A few years ago, the 2014 Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate and her mother, Dana DiSantis, watched "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," a 2009 special edition of the ABC News show, "20/20," with Diane Sawyer.
After learning about the poverty-stricken areas of central Appalachia, including eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, Mia DiSantis was inspired to reach out to her fellow young people there.
At age 15, Mia, now 18, began what she now calls the "Mine Foundation," which carries the tagline of "What's mine is yours."
Through a series of phone calls and the help of a West Virginian pastor, Mia and her mother were connected to the leaders of the McDowell Public Library in Welch, W.Va. Over the years, it's survived a fire, a flood and, this spring, a burst pipe, to remain a hub of activity and resources for the small coal-mining town of approximately 2,400 people.
"We have a beautiful library here, a beautiful town. We love our city," said McDowell Public Library Director Donna Morgan. "You always have children that have need. Some have needs desperately, and then you have some that don't. Here, we believe in helping all the children."
According to U.S. Census data, the median household income in McDowell County is $22,972. Of a population of about 20,876 people, more than 33 percent of the county's people live below the poverty line, and 20 percent of the total population is younger than 18.
Both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson cited McDowell County in the 1960s, leading up to the declaration of the "war on poverty."
Children's Librarian Judy Long, said the library, which serves children ages 2 and older, offers public access to computers, help with homework and research, and also regularly holds story hours.
Each year, there's a Christmas party, and through the help of Mia, her friends and family, the Mine Foundation sent more than 100 gift bags for the children, plus a bag full of small teddy bears, puzzles, board games and art supplies. Long said the gifts were distributed at the party, through Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and a gift table was set up, where kids could select their own present. Mia received pictures and thank-you notes from the children.
"It's very great and generous of her," said Long of Mia's efforts.
"A lot of attention is focused on poverty in other countries around the world, but the mountains of Appalachia are right in our backyard, and heavily overlooked," said Mia, who made two presentations last week at Mount Greylock Regional High School about her project.
She gave some of the most dire examples of poverty in Appalachia, and the problems -- as with poverty anywhere -- that go with it: Dilapidated homes, malnutrition, substance abuse and lack of employment, among other things.
Morgan said the community is working to rise above. "I know where [Mia's] coming from and I know what she's talking about. We do live in an area where there are some children that really do need [the help]."
The library director said a 2002 flood destroyed the children's department, and when a pipe burst on April 26, it resulted in a loss of more than 5,000 books, a few laminating machines, a copier and printer, and severely damaged some ceilings.
"Yet we seem to recover, thanks to the kind people here, like Mia, who help us," Morgan said.
Mount Greylock teacher Liza Barrett was Mia's adviser for her senior project, which expanded the student's work on the Mine Foundation.
"[Mia] has done this quietly over the past few years, but when I worked with her this year and found out about it, I told my middle school community service club, SOC: Students Organizing Change, and they wanted to get involved," Barrett said.
On Friday, the Middle School SOC hosted a dance to benefit the organization, and also sold raffle tickets for passes to the Ramblewild outdoor adventure course.
This summer, Mia and her mother, Dana, are working to raise funds to fill a friend's truck with goods and drive down to Welch, before Mia heads to the University of New Haven this fall. Mia said intends for the Mine Foundation to be a lifelong effort.
"I can't wait for them to meet her in person," said Dana, who plans on traveling with her daughter. "We just want them to see that someone really cares about them."
Long and Morgan said they also look forward to possibly meeting the young donor this summer. "She has to be a caring and loving young lady. We are looking forward to meeting her. ... She seems like a real nice girl, who will go far in life."
Mia said that by getting her fellow Mount Greylock students involved, she hopes they can be inspired to find their own cause to believe in and support.
"When I get an idea, I tend to go with both feet in. This is a place where I wanted to start making a difference," Mia said. "Every small step leads to something bigger ... It's a matter of priorities and making sure I found the time to do something that really matters to me."
To learn more about the project or to make a donation, visit facebook.com/MINEFoundation or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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