Last updated: July 17. 2013 1:36PM - 550 Views

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Julia Roberts Goad

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSON — A campaign to address the issue of child poverty in Mingo County will kick off with a meeting next week in Williamson.

According the West Virginia Healthy Kids, 30 percent of West Virginia children under age six live in poverty, meaning a family of three earns less than $20,000 a year.

Local agencies are partnering for “Our Children, Our Future:.Mingo County Childhood Poverty Forum.”

Groups involved in the effort include the Mingo County Diabetes Coalition, the Williamson Housing Authority; Logan-Mingo Area Mental Health, the Strong Through Our Plan (STOP) Coalition; the Christian Appalachian Project; and Sr. Brendan Conlon, volunteer with Christian Help of Mingo County.

The campaign will kick off with a community meeting at 4 p.m. March 22 on the fourth

floor of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s Williamson Campus.

The group hopes to impact child poverty comprehensively by focusing on primary and secondary

issues, such as Medicaid expansion, family violence prevention, stopping cuts in child-care, healthy food initiatives and bi-partisan prison reform.

Sister Janet Peterworth of the Christian Appalachian Project expressed concerns about health care for children living in poverty and Medicaid expansion.

“Medicaid expansion of the affordable care act would add 120,000 West Virginians to health insurance,” Sister Janet said. “With the federal government paying virtually all of the cost for the first 3 years of life and 90 percent afterwards, we can’t afford not to do this.”

Children living below the poverty level are three times as likely to have severe health problems, than kids not living near the poverty line. Locally, childhood obesity is an issue being tackled by the Mingo County Diabetes Coalition (MCDC).

“With such high obesity rates in West Virginia, it’s important to provide access to healthy foods and to teach healthy eating habits at an early age.” Maria Arnot of the MCDC.

Prison reform is another issue that affects children living in poverty. Often times, parents who have served time in the prison system, the majority of those sentences can be traced by to drug abuse and dependency. Those who have a felony conviction on their record can be denied services from government agencies when they try to rebuild their lives.

“Families are the ones that are suffering from discriminatory practices against people who have paid their debt to society,” said Sr. Brendan Conlon, a volunteer with Christian Help. “Children especially are suffering from denial of food stamps, denial of places to live.”

With the loss of that social safety net, many people fall prey to the problem of cyclical poverty.

“No one changes by themselves,” said Robin Weiner, Children’s Liaison, Logan-Mingo Area Mental Health. “With lifelong punishment and limited assistance, many give up we take away the hope and belief that positive change is possible and worthwhile.”

Alexis Batausa of the MCDC said it is important the community work together toward addressing issues involving Mingo County children living in poverty.

“In this day and age, we need to speak our minds towards issues that affect each and everyone in Mingo County,” Batausa said. “If we don’t do this, the livelihood of each citizen will be at-risk.”

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