By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Actress and member of the Save The Children Board of Trustees Jennifer Garner spoke with state lawmakers Monday to thank them for including funding in the budget and said she hopes money is not reduced in the future.
In a Monday interview Garner discussed her program and her meetings with state officials. Garner met with House Speaker Tim Armstead, House Education Chair Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and House Finance Chair Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, Monday afternoon in Armstead’s office.
She said she wanted to meet with lawmakers to thank them for including the program in the budget, but also to make sure that it is not further reduced in the future.
Under the budget bill, $122,500 is allocated to the Reconnecting McDowell-Save The Children program. This program helps with several areas, including early infancy care and literacy programs in several counties in the state. Garner said for every $1 in state funding, the organization contributes about $3.
Garner and lawmakers also discussed whether there could be other funds under the Department of Health and Human Resources or the Department of Education that have a similar purpose as this program and could be diverted to it.
“I wanted to thank him for including it in the budget. And because Save The Children is a public-private partnership, whatever funds this state comes up with, we match at least but with private dollars,” Garner said.
“I go out and fundraise for it like crazy all year along. I’m constantly fundraising for anything to do with West Virginia and I’m happy and proud to do that. But the state funding has to match us. Gov. Manchin gave us $1 million for the first two years we were here and we matched that money and over the last couple of years under Gov. Tomblin, our money has been reduced. And in order to not leave the state because we’re not getting enough to run programs, Save The Children is spending more than $3 of private money for every dollar of state money. I’m here saying we’ve got to right this ship. It’s gone too far out of whack.”
Armstead said Garner has been a tremendous advocate for the state and commended her on her efforts during last year’s flood. Armstead said she marshaled resources and brought private donations to benefit flood relief efforts last year.
“We share her hope that all our children are well-prepared and ready to learn on their first day in the classroom. We look forward to continuing to work with her and representatives of the Save The Children organization to see how they can best fit into our overall budget picture,” Armstead said.
In addition to her meeting with Armstead, Garner also met with the governor’s staff later that day.
Garner said she has worked for Save the Children for the last nine years in programs helping kids in rural areas with home visitation, Birth to 3, all the way up to literacy programs.
“I take it very seriously and it all started because I wanted to bring these excellent programs to my home state,” Garner said. “We’ve been here since 2010 and we’re doing really great work. I know this is a rough budget year so I’m just here to thank these gentleman for keeping us in the budget and trying to make sure that our presence is robust enough to be able to do the work that we do so well.”
According to the group’s website, the program helps children in 120 countries providing support for health, education, protection, disaster relief. Garner said she’s seen many success stories through her involvement in the program.
“For us, the kids in our program, even with all the stressors they have in their lives — poverty, addiction, living with people other than their parents, food insecurity, not knowing where they will sleep at night — those are all things that really shut a child’s or anyone’s brain down from the ability to learn,” she said. “And if you don’t set the brain up to learn by the time you’re in kindergarten or by the time you enter kindergarten, you’re already entering school in remediation. You’re already behind before you ever start your first day of schooling.”
She said more than 85 percent of the children in this program are above the level they need to be in the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which measures an individual’s receptive vocabulary for Standard American English and provides an estimate of verbal ability or scholastic aptitude.
“So, they are trending so far above their peers that are not in our program would trend and kids in our in-school after-school program. It’s the equivalent for those kids being in our program to getting an extra almost six months of school a year. And they’re reading 68 books more a year than they would have if they were not in our program. …That’s how much we are able to pull them up every year. It’s a very in-depth program and we are engaged in the community.”
Garner said she is not only passionate about the program, but about West Virginia as well. She said she hopes to see more success stories, especially with kids growing up in poverty in rural areas in the Mountain State.
“I love this state. I love the kids in this state. I believe in the possibility for them and I think that we take care of our own better and more than almost anyone else in the world,” she said. “These are little kids in the middle of nowhere in the back of hollers. These are not kids on the hill where I grew up. They’re not kids in Beckley. These are kids in McDowell County, Roane County, Nicholas County, Calhoun and Cabell. These are kids struggling and suffering and their parents are struggling and suffering just to keep life going and without intervention, they will not show up to school ready to learn.”
She said the reason this is important to her is to give children a chance to improve their lives in the future.
“Without an education, there is very little chance for these kids to break the cycle of generational poverty that they have been unfortunate enough to be born into,” Garner said. “We have got to find a way for them to only be fortunate that they have been born into this beautiful state in this gorgeous country in this beautiful time and let them live their lives and flourish. And it’s up to us, brick by brick to help them.”
Garner said she is passionate about keeping the program in the state.
“I’m passionate about that as anything in the world and after nine years of working for Save, I’m more sure that what we do works in rural American and in West Virginia than I ever have been,” she said. “If it takes knocking on every door to keep us in the state, then they’re just going to have to get used to seeing me here.”
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