By John McVey
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — More than 50 interested individuals gathered Thursday evening for a community conversation on Poverty in the Panhandle: Children at Risk.
“The most apparent thing is the numbers – the percentage of boys and girls living in poverty,” Tiffany Lawrence said to open the forum. “Thirty percent of all West Virginia boys and girls under the age of 6 are living in poverty.”
Lawrence is director of development and marketing for the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, one of the host organizations. Also hosting the event was the Family Resource Network of the Panhandle and the Health and Human Services Collaborative.
Those participating in the forum represented several social services agencies, churches, charitable organizations, government, education and concerned citizens.
“Research in brain development shows that social, emotional and cognitive development is shaped in early childhood and has a lifelong effect,” Lawrence said. “Poor kids are five times more likely to have children outside marriage, twice as likely to be arrested and nearly three times as likely to have severe health problems.”
Lawrence also is a member of the state House of Delegates from Jefferson County.
State Senate Majority Leader John Unger related how he was recently meeting with a group of business leaders and he asked them why they should care about poverty.
“Kids born today will be your work force in 20 years. If you want your business to be around in 20 years, where will your work force be?” Unger said he asked the group of business leaders. “One-third will be on drugs. One-third will be in jail. And one-third will have left West Virginia. Poverty is your business. It’s everyone’s business.”