The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 22, 2013

High stakes

Everyone has a stake in children and poverty

— Many bleak pictures of poverty, an issue that affects many West Virginia children, were vividly described in a community meeting Wednesday.

The West Virginia Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty met in Beckley with community members to discuss potential solutions for issues related to children and poverty.

It’s heartbreaking to think that many of the issues discussed still exist in 21st century America, and in a state as caring and compassionate as West Virginia and its citizens have proven to be over the years.

Kids are “slipping through the cracks” many times due to a vast array of issues, never the fault of the child affected.

An educator from Fayette County spoke about a child who has both parents locked up in jail, saying that “he just needs someone to care.”

A story was told about a boy who thought a bill calling for extra lunch would be a great one. When asked why, the boy  said so he wouldn’t be hungry and he could share his dinner with his brother at home later that night.

Solutions and suggestions were offered by attendees.

Some called upon the community to volunteer at their local schools.

Others suggested training religious leaders to effectively communicate with parents about safety, nutrition and discipline.

Others solutions included: reaching families before they are broken, hiring additional counselors at schools, creating more afterschool programs and funding transportation to and from those programs, fighting the prescription drug problem, making more resources available for parents, creating more jobs, fighting the stigma of mental illness, and preventing the high school drop out rate.

The senate was there to get public feedback and to find out what it could do to help.

Education reform may be a part of the solution.

But clearly, the bottom line is we must all pitch in.

Margaret O’Neal, executive director of the United Way of Southern West Virginia, showed appreciation for the turnout and offered a challenge: “Don’t just do the talk, walk the walk.”

We’re glad this meeting was held.

But while the government is often looked upon to be a solver of problems and cultural ills - real progress is made when communities first take on the challenges in the trenches.

While assistance is needed from lawmakers many times, sometimes community leaders and volunteers just need to get their hands dirty, and dig in after identifying the issues.

If we all take O’Neal’s challenge to heart, and affect just one child or one family’s life - what an impact that would make.

A lasting impact, on the children and our state.

And our own homes.