older woman next to a young girl

Mamaw Mentorship in Eastern Kentucky

Hemphill Community Center
Jackhorn, Kentucky

Creating two-way mentoring relationships between older women and eighth-grade girls in Central Appalachia.

Mamaw Mentorship in Eastern Kentucky will connect older women and eighth-grade girls to support a resilient community grappling with economic adversity, outmigration, evolving gender roles, and drug addiction. The program will include lunch sessions to get to know one another, afterschool guests speaking about career opportunities, cogenerational problem-solving sessions to address community challenges in innovative ways, and a friendship bench to interact with and listen to those who need support and friendship. Finally the olders and youngers will reimagine the transition from eighth grade to high school. By collaborating with the “grandmothers” in crafting new rites of passage and preserving cultural traditions, the younger girls will become stewards of their community’s unique heritage.

Gwen Johnson portrait

Led by Gwen Johnson, Secretary/Treasurer

Gwen Johnson, a self-described “hillbilly woman” from the coal camp of Hemphill, Kentucky, is founder of Black Sheep Bakery and Catering and board member of Hemphill Community Center. She has been a member of Hands Across the Hills since its founding in 2017. 

Gwen is the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners. She graduated high school unable to read beyond a second-grade level. She learned to read while reading to her children and went to college the same year her oldest daughter did, receiving a BS at the University of Pikeville and an MA at Goddard College in health arts and sciences.

She has worked as an administrator in the University of Kentucky’s Early Childhood Development program since 2003.