Shawn Grimm

Shawn Grimm, #20, listens as Johnson Central Golden Eagles coach Jim Matney goes over plays for his offense during a 2007 practice.

A week after a special report on Appalachia created a national stir, ABC News “20/20” will be airing another program tonight dealing with how to battle the cycle of poverty and drug addiction gripping much of eastern Kentucky.

More than 2,000 have commented on ABC’s Web site about the original program, “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains,” which aired on Feb. 13 and can be seen on ABC’s Web site.

Diane Sawyer, a Louisville native, anchored the program. Besides looking at answers, tonight’s episode, which airs at 10 p.m., will be updating the lives of the families featured in last week’s program.

The response to that show has been overwhelming, including donations of more than $60,000 to the Christian Appalachian Project and the promises from the makers of Mountain Dew of a new mobile lab for Edwin Smith, a dentist in Barbourville.

One of those featured in the program was former Johnson Central High School football star Shawn Grim.

“It’s been incredible,” Jim Matney, Johnson Central football coach, said of the response. “I’ve spent about two-thirds of every day fielding phone calls, (talking to) people that are wanting to help and checking the validity of the story.”

Matney said the program “exposed some areas of great need in eastern Kentucky. I think the welfare system has just about enslaved eastern Kentucky and then you put drugs on top of that and it makes it almost a devastation.”

Grim, a star for the Golden Eagles’ football team two years ago, comes from a dysfunctional family. In the 20/20 program, Grim’s fractured home situation was underscored, including that at times he slept in his truck.

“I think there were certain things that probably were left out of the story, such as I think Shawn had a little stronger support system” than portrayed, Matney said. “Everybody knows our coaching staff and some of our families looked after Shawn pretty closely. I think it’s important people understand Shawn always had a home he could live in. (But) It was difficult for him to be brought up the way he was.”

Grim, of Flat Gap, never went hungry and was furnished clothes and new shoes, Matney said. “It’s a very complex situation,” he said.

Matney said plans are in the works to get Grim re-enrolled in a school this fall. He went to Pikeville College after he graduated high school but lasted only eight weeks before dropping out.

Since the program aired, Grim has received scholarship offers from Union College, University of the Cumberlands, University of Louisville and Pikeville College at the same scholarship level when he left the school.

Pikeville College President Michael Looney told The Paintsville Herald that Grim chose not to take the offer.

“We wish Shawn well in his future endeavors,” Looney said.

Grim, who has had several other job offers since the program aired, hasn’t made any final decision except that he’s going back to college and playing football again.

The Christian Appalachian Project, or CAP, which wasn’t mentioned in Sawyers’ report as one of the supportive outlets in the area, is also working with Grim, Mantey said.

Matney said the picture painted of Appalachia was a bleak one and many in the area were “very, very bitter” about the portrayal.

Missing the mark

District Judge Kevin Holbrook of Johnson County said the story missed the mark on some issues.

“It just amazes me the media and certain politicians want to put money into fighting the drug problem, but the government creates the problem in the first place with the drug cards,” he said. “The government creates the problem, which must then be dealt with by the court system, law enforcement, counselors and the education system. The biggest part of the problem is created by our own tax dollars.

“To me, that’s the biggest part of the story she missed — that everybody misses.”

Overall, Holbrook said the piece, “made good drama,” although “the incest story at the end discredited it.” He criticized the show, saying “they didn’t go deep enough” and failed to portray “the quality of the people and the place — the progress that’s been made.”

He contends the success stories from this region wouldn’t likely “make as good a drama,” and sounds extremely confident in saying “I’m sure there will be some good come out of it. I’m just not sure what it will be.”

Holbrook said the documentary made some points that can’t be denied.

“It gave some good attention to the prescription drug abuse problem, but I thought it portrayed the area unfairly. Every area has poor areas and there are many people who don’t fit the profile ... many who want to make the area better,” he said.

“They didn’t go into the quality of our school systems — Johnson County especially,” which seemed especially unfair considering it portrayed a Johnson County athlete.

Holbrook cited district test scores for Paintsville Independent Schools as well as county schools including Central Elementary where his wife is a teacher. He said many of those teachers dig into their own pocket to buy snacks or other things for the kids who don’t have resources and the resourceful nature of poor children who are motivated, saying “They find a way to do well.”

‘Well, it’s true’

Eula Hall, 81, founder of the Mud Creek Clinic in Floyd County, said she feels the show accurately portrayed a segment of local life.

“Well, it’s true. It’s a shame and, of course, it’s embarrassing, but it’s true.”

She said clinic staff members “told the truth and showed people what we try to do to help.” Hall then added, “We need a lot more help.

“I know people’s embarrassed and mad, but it’s true and we can’t deny it.”

“Everybody don’t live like that and we know that. But, it’s sad and it’s horrible that children have to suffer. That’s why I still work. I’m 81 years old and I still work because I want to help people,” then added “helping people” is the motivation for everyone at Mud Creek Clinic and praised their outstanding efforts on behalf of people in this area.

ABC News may also be trying to capitalize because the show drew such high ratings last week. It was the highest rated prime-time program Friday, drawing 10.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. It was the biggest 20/20 audience since 2004.

Sawyer told The Associated Press before the report aired that she and her crew drove more than 14,000 miles in two years to make the documentary, which told the stories of Central Appalachian children struggling with poverty and other issues.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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