Annual forum on child poverty held

PARKERSBURG – About 20 people participated in the second annual Our Children, Our Future: The Campaign to End Child Poverty forum on Saturday afternoon at the Judge Black Annex in downtown Parkersburg.

The forum discussed the top five issues chosen from 18 issues outlined during 72 community workshops with 1,053 community leaders throughout the state last summer, said Lisa Wotring, north regional organizer for the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.

“We are here to discuss these issues and see where they are in the legislature and if we have the support of local legislators,” Wotring said.

The five issues focused on during the two-hour public forum were: increasing the minimum wage; expanding home-visiting programs; create 30-minute physical activity time in each school day; creation of a permanent mineral trust fund from a portion of severance taxes to provide a permanent source of wealth for West Virginia; and protecting funding for Family Resource Networks and Family Resource Centers.

Both state Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and Del. Tom Azinger, D-Wood, attended the program and said they plan to support all five issues when they come before the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates throughout this year.

“Cold poverty is a sad, dismal situation, no matter how you look at it,” said Wotring, who then told her own story of the need for assistance after she left an abusive marriage with her children. “I was lucky, I was blessed. I am here today because of these programs.

“Luck or blessing should have nothing to do with whether you can make a living wage, if you have a job, you should be able to support yourself and your children,” Wotring added.

Lisa Parsons, with the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia’s Parkersburg office, said the organization is in support of this year’s campaign platform.

“Everything on this year’s list is in our mission to help West Virginia’s children,” Parsons said.

Area resident Dana Singer read a statement from a local mother struggling to make ends meet while working two jobs. The letter is in support of the campaign’s focus to increase the state’s minimum wage, which will put money into the pockets of working families and diminish the need for government benefits, such as food stamps.

“The West Virginia work force deserves better hourly wages,” Singer read. “If my pay were increased by just $1 per hour, I would be able to tuck my kids into bed at night or we could go to a movie or a fast food restaurant as a treat, which are things that just aren’t possible now.”

Wotring said the purpose of the forum, as well as others like it throughout West Virginia, is to advance these issues with the goal to alleviate child poverty.

“There is no quick fix to our child poverty crisis, but by organizing our communities and presenting real solutions to our legislators, we can start to make a difference,” Wotring said.

Thirty percent of West Virginians from birth to 6-years-old live in poverty while 48 percent of families in the state struggle to make ends meet every month.

The forum was sponsored by the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and organized with the aid of the Local Family Resource Network, the Children’s Home Society and Catholic Charities West Virginia.