Saturday, November 30, 2013
When I was a child, early on Christmas mornings, I remember waking up my sisters to go into the den to discover what Santa brought. The worst part was waiting for mom and dad to get up and get their coffee before we could pursue this joyful adventure. One year I got a football uniform - helmet, shoulder pads and all. Another year I got a B.B. gun and I didn’t shoot my eye out. These gifts were important to me because I knew I was loved.
This year, East Cooper Community Outreach will once again conduct the “Adopt-A-Family” program to help low-income parents and families provide Christmas for their children. Last year, 135 families were adopted. We are now in our fifth year and we need your help. It’s easy. Just go to our www.ECCOcharleston.org and click the Adopt-A-Family button. You can then choose a prescreened family for your family or group to adopt.
The holiday season is a great time to think about providing for our children, but I’d like to bring awareness to a dilemma in our community. Our low-income neighbors lag behind in early childhood development. Did you know that children in poverty enter the first grade two years behind the child of a middle-income family? Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child notes that chronic, unrelenting circumstances, perhaps caused by poverty can be toxic for the child in early developmental years. From birth, the brain of a child develops from nurturing and interacting with parents, family or caregivers.
The first five years of life is when growth and development of linguistic, conceptual, social, emotional and motor competence take place. Many low income families either have little or no time to spend reading to their children because they work two and three jobs to try to make ends meet or they lack the know how to do so themselves.
A low-income family is defined as a family income that is 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $47,000 for a family of two adults and two children.
Programs exist to help teach parents how to raise children and how to pay attention to their health and development. These in-home visiting programs are effective when a volunteer or caseworker teach parents the expectations of growth and development through the early years. Parents also learn to interact, read and nurture the child.
The more challenging issue is to equip the parents with the right tools to raise themselves out of poverty. Each family situation is unique. Each family faces different barriers. No one-size fits all.
It is widely understood that the path to our nation’s future prosperity begins with the well-being of our children. Boeing and other manufacturers have set educating our residents and establishing a pipeline of workers as their top priority for our state. At a breakfast last week, it was shared that Boeing and AT&T need to bring qualified workers from other areas of our country to accomplish the work they need. Because our state cannot fulfill their employment needs. Therefore, it is imperative we bring all children along in their early childhood development to ensure future success in our area.
As we enter into the Christmas season and provide for our own children’s happiness, let’s remember our challenge is much broader than our own families. By offering hope to our neighbors in need, we also encourage change to improve their lives. When we all come together to address early childhood well-being, we are guaranteeing a successful future. For our community to prosper, we are called to bring all children a brighter future.
Jack Little is the executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.