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Group targets childhood poverty

Nov. 11, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

HUNTINGTON — Society is filled with controversial issues, but the importance of improving life for children in poverty is not one of them. People from all walks of life will come together and work toward solutions on that one, said Rick Wilson with the Our Children, Our Future campaign.

And so they did on Sunday evening, when social workers, law enforcement, educators, policy-makers, members of the faith community and others gathered at Enslow Park Presbyterian Church for a grassroots meeting. They focused on tangible goals that can be met to address childhood poverty in West Virginia, and they left with insights on some ideas about policy changes to champion and ways they can help.

Our Children, Our Future is a statewide coalition of more than 160 groups focused on concrete action, including both local projects and state policy, that can help pull West Virginia children from the cycle of poverty.

Wilson, who is a member of the campaign’s steering committee, said the organization hosts meetings throughout the state to gather input from communities and come up with solutions. They cast votes on their favorite policy proposals, and then in December, the group tallies votes on the top five legislative issues West Virginians want to rally behind.

They’ve gathered support from the eastern and northern panhandles to the coalfields to Cabell County.

“We want a ground game all over this state,” said Wilson, whose day job is with the American Friends Service Committee, a social justice group. “What we really want to do with the campaign is to provide a vehicle for anyone who wants to get involved.”
Last year, all of its top five goals came to fruition, including the following:

n Medicaid expansion for up to 138 percent of the poverty line for all West Virginians.

n Protecting and increasing funds for preventing family violence in West Virginia through organizations such as the Children’s Trust Fund, child advocacy centers and domestic violence programs.

n Ending cuts to child care programs that benefit working families who earn within 185 percent of the federal poverty limit.

n Promoting healthy foods programs for at least five new schools or school districts and passing legislation to restrict soft drinks in schools.
n Passing bi-partisan legislation to address prison overcrowding and overspending on corrections, as more money spent on prisons means less money to spend on children and crime prevention.

The potential goals are chosen strategically and are doable, Wilson said.

“The art of politics is to find the areas to hit and to hit them,” he said. “I have a background in karate, and that’s how I think of things.”

Del. Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, attended the meeting Sunday and said she’d like address poverty because it’s the cause of so many other issues in the state.

“I’m here because I want to see us work together as a community and a state to not just nibble around the edges of the problem but get to the root of the problem,” she said.

Proposals up for vote for next year’s “top five” involve substance abuse, education, jobs, families and the justice system.

Wilson said one proposal with a strong chance of being in the top five involves stronger physical education programs in schools. His personal favorite among the policy proposals is for West Virginia to establish a Future Trust Fund from natural resource severance taxes. With the natural gas boom in the state, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be some money set aside in an endowment to provide an ongoing stream of revenue for the needs of West Virginia residents, he said.

The policy proposals are developed over a six-month period, and the votes will be tallied Dec. 13. The top five will be championed during the 2014 legislative session.

The campaign will also host a Kids and Families Day at the capitol on Feb. 4, 2014.

To learn more about the Our Children, Our Future campaign, visit www.wvhealthykids.org.

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