We made our last stop of the KIDS COUNT Power Lunch Tour in Lawton this past Wednesday. The turnout was great and the Community Conversation was once again enlightening and compelling.
As with most endings, this one was bittersweet. This month has been inspirational and eye-opening. And everywhere we went, our hearts were lifted by the passion of the advocates and the community leaders we met who are working tirelessly to ensure their hometowns and their state are places where kids feel safe, loved and encouraged and where they can access all the resources they need to reach their full potential.
In Lawton, these advocates and leaders included people such as State Representative Joe Dorman, Mayor Fred Fitch and DHS Comanche County Director Patsy Davis who were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to sit on our Community Conversation Panel.
Mayor Fred Fitch explained to everyone some of the unique challenges Lawton faces and the steps the community is taking to address them. He said unfortunately the homicide rate is “scary and climbing.” But Lawton’s community groups and churches are constantly looking for new ways to insulate children from the violence and through programs such as M.I.G.H.T. – an afterschool program for continuing education – they are attempting to break the cycle of poverty by preparing the youth of Lawton for life in the workplace, teaching them how to dress for interviews and interact in a professional manner when seeking a job. Forty kids participated in the program this summer alone and, as a result of the parents becoming involved as well, half of their family members received job placements in the community.
“The important thing is that we’re here finding out what we can do as individuals to correct the problems we see to build a better community, state and nation,” Mayor Fred Fitch said, motioning to everyone in the room.
Representative Dorman spoke about his childhood and the challenges he and his family faced growing up in rural Oklahoma with a disabled father. Fortunately, he said, he was a good student and when he went to college found his niche in politics.
“We are citizens just like everyone else who sent us to the Capitol,” Representative Dorman said. “If the advocates don’t provide us with the information we need to make educated votes, no one will.”
The representative attributed many of the problems we’re seeing to apathy among voters and elected officials alike. He pointed to low turnout at the polls for local, state and national elections but stressed the dismally low numbers at the local polls, which he said are the most crucial in effecting change where you live. Only half of eligible voters are registered, and only around 60% of registered voters showed up for the last presidential election. Substantially fewer make it to the polls for city council elections, which are where real change often begins. If people aren’t even registered to vote or aren’t even active voters, he surmised, more than likely they’re not picking up the phone to call their elected officials.
It is paramount that we get involved in the political process if we want to offer the generations that follow us a better future.
Patsy Davis pointed out how crucial the services of DHS are to the well-being of children and families in Comanche County. In the fiscal year 2012, 11,500 children were helped by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This assistance goes to families who are working and is of great help to vulnerable citizens, such as children and seniors. She emphasized the importance of protecting funding for SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). She was proud to announce the vast improvement in Comanche County of child development programs, daycares and pre-K programs. She was also pleased to share that as a result of the Pinnacle Plan the county office has added 10 new employees and two new units in Child Welfare to get more, better quality foster homes and increase worker visits.
She then read a letter one of the foster children wrote to one of the workers when asked what he needed. The needs were basic and the humility with which the child requested them was simply crushing.
Things I Want in My Family, the child titled it. Food. Water. No hitting. Lights. Parents not fighting. No lice. No bugs. Don’t kill pets. Don’t get drunk. No drugs. Nice, clean house. Clean bed. My own comb.
“Listen to the words of the child,” Patsy Davis said to a room full of watery eyes.
You can see why the end was bittersweet for us. There’s still much work to be done. It has been such a joy touching down in cities across the state and we’re sad it’s over. But, for the time being, we must tackle other matters in further preparation for the upcoming legislative session, including planning for our annual fall forum next month. We are excited to announce we’ve partnered with Oklahoma City University to hold a two-day forum on their beautiful campus. We will be rolling out those details to you as they become available.
Please feel free to reach out to us with your advocacy needs and with your concerns for children in your community and throughout the state. If you haven’t already, please join our mailing list. We send out monthly newsletters and occasionally updates concerning new data, events and timely state issues. When legislative session begins, we will need your voice at the Capitol contacting your legislators and telling them above all our children and families should be our state’s top priority.
Together, we can #BeAVoice for children.