Push for Children in Poverty Puts WV Kids above Politics

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – By now, a lot of people are probably sick of politics. But a new, nonpartisan drive aims to put democracy into action for West Virginia children living in poverty. According to census data, almost half of the state’s kids live in homes at or near the poverty level, most with parents who are considered the working poor.

Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, says in the next few years they will help organize hundreds of meetings to find out what those families need and how to make it happen.

“Sitting around a table, saying ‘What do we see?’, ‘What would make it better?’ and ‘What are we going to do?’ – this is the fun part about democracy.”

Support is coming from people across the political spectrum and at every level, he says, from meetings with state leaders to kitchen-table discussions with parents. Some of the best input comes from families who are struggling, he adds.

Smith realized how powerful a parent’s feelings can be when his own newborn had to stay an extra week at the hospital, he says.

“It was terrifying. If we do this campaign right, it’s an opportunity to take that kind of fear and frustration and anger and turn it into something that could make a difference.”

Smith sees a lot of what he calls “quiet heroism” going on – parents who, for example, take on an extra job and do not ask for assistance. He says most people know struggling families, even if they do not realize it.

Tara Martinez is now the executive director of the West Virginia Women’s Commission. She says she’ll be at the meetings because life in Roane County once was difficult for her and her mother.

“We found many times when we didn’t have food, we didn’t have electricity, that our community really helped.”

Young father Ivan Lee of St. Albans will host a meeting. He says a mentor made all the difference when he was being raised by his grandmother and living on public assistance.

“There’s nothing greater for a person who is going through a hard time than to meet someone and get some guidance.”

If anyone is interested in hosting a meeting, Smith says they can call him at his office, 304-610-6512, or visit the coalition website, www.wvhealthykids.org.

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