Girls swayed in big pouffy princess dresses and fussed with their pinned up hair. Dapper-looking guys linked arms with their dates as they posed for photos reserved for the family room.
But when Getty photographer Mario Tama pulled his camera back on Owsley County, where 41.5 percent of residents live below the poverty line, a grim picture of joblessness, teen parenting and struggle revealed itself.
In Owsley County, Ky., a community of about 5,000, residents earn the lowest median household income in the country outside of Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Census. The decline in coal, tobacco and lumber industries have taken a harsh toll on this community where locals also face a high incidence of drug addiction, the Daily Mail reports.
“Those with drug addictions end up in prison without effective treatment,” Cale Turner, county executive of Owsley County, told ABC back in 2010. “And it happens over and over in this community. The drug problem continues to get worse every year.”
Though many live in trailers without running water, and preparing for prom means primping in a bathroom-turned-hair-salon, those living is Owsley are not without hope.
“The situation is sad but it’s still a very proud community,” Vince Turner, president of Owsley County Outreach, told the news outlet.
The Owsley County Outreach, the only organization of its kind in the community, gives residents a place to turn when they have nowhere to go. The organization stuffs backpacks with food for kids on the weekends, to make sure they have something to eat when they’re not in school. It provides meals and clothing to low-income seniors and helps victims of domestic violence put their lives back together again.
“We’re all about community development,” Ethel Ross, who works at the organization, told the Huffington Post, “and helping the community any way we can.”