One in four Northwest Arkansas children live in poverty. That amounts to 26,000 children, enough to fill the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion four times.
Almost half of the area's children come from low-income homes, many of which teeter on the brink of poverty.
At A Glance
The United Way of Northwest Arkansas is hosting sessions to gather community feedback on ways to provide children a pathway out of poverty. Each session will cover the same topics. Go to unitedwaynwa.org/clip to register and learn more information.
• Feb. 17: 3-4:30 p.m., Center for Nonprofits, 1200 W. Walnut St., Rogers
• Feb. 19: 3-4:30 p.m., The Jones Center, 922 E. Emma Ave., Springdale
• Feb. 25: 8:30-10 a.m., The Jones Center, 922 E. Emma Ave., Springdale
• Feb. 26: 9-10:30 a.m., Boys and Girls Club of Western Benton County, 655 Heritage Court, Siloam Springs
• Feb. 27: 8:30-10 a.m., Center for Nonprofits, 1200 W. Walnut St., Rogers
Source: United Way of Northwest Arkansas
Percent of Northwest Arkansas children living in poverty by race/ethnicity:
All area children — 23 percent
White — 17 percent
Black — 42 percent
Hispanic — 37 percent
Percent of children in poverty by city:
Bentonville — 6 percent
Fayetteville —17 percent
Rogers — 23 percent
Springdale — 39 percent
Source: U.S. Census American Community Survey
Leaders at the United Way of Northwest Arkansas hope a new approach by the agency can help those children fight their way out.
"We realized to really have an impact we had to narrow our focus," Jill Darling, president of the agency, said Thursday after the Children Living in Poverty Summit.
About 300 people attended the event at Embassy Suites in Rogers that was a joint project of the United Way, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and Bank of America.
Darling said the United Way will continue funding programs addressing basic needs, such as food and shelter, and have guaranteed nonprofit groups funding for 2014. The agency is on track for its 2014 campaign to meet or exceed the $3.8 million raised in the 2013 campaign, she said.
"No one is getting cut off," she said. "We are just in the beginning stages of this new focused approach."
Part of the approach will be bringing together regional leaders to identify ways to collectively have an impact, Darling said.
Thursday's summit was just the first step, said Marsha Jones, an educator for 40 years and recent retiree of the Springdale School District.
She encouraged people to attend one of five upcoming sessions that will help the United Way develop its childhood poverty elimination plan. The community input sessions will focus on current programs, best practices and identifying gaps in services and barriers to people getting out of poverty.
The agency is also forming what it calls Community Impact Councils focusing on three areas: education, income and health.
Darling said she didn't want the Children Living in Poverty Summit to be thought of as a United Way event, but as a community project. The summit's goal was to educate, advocate and engage attendees, not to raise funds.
"This is the start of galvanizing people who care about the issue but aren't sure what to do next," said Laura Kellams, Northwest Arkansas director of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Many people are already working hard on individual parts of the childhood poverty issue -- from running pre-kindergarten programs to offering expanding medical services -- but it's time to look at the bigger picture and find ways to fill gaps, she said.
"Having a good preschool program is not going to guarantee a child has nutritious meals when they are in middle school or don't drop out of high school," Kellams said. "No one group can lower child poverty alone. It has to be a communitywide effort."
She encouraged people to learn about issues related to poverty and share their thoughts with legislators, saying advocacy can be a powerful tool.
Sherece West-Scantlebury, president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, served as the event's keynote speaker and pointed to herself as a success story. She said she grew up in public housing in Baltimore and is proud of her background.
"It's made me who I am today. I got here because of people like you," she told the crowd that consisted of community leaders in advocacy, social services, education and business.
She said getting 26,000 children out of poverty is doable, but it requires people working with a common vision.
"All our personal missions need to feed into that vision," she said.
Rogers Collins, Harps Foods CEO, said learning new ways to get involved is what drew him to the summit. One of the company's philanthropic goals is to fight childhood hunger, he said.
The grocer, along with Bank of America and Endeavor Care Foundation, provided funds that expanded the Samaritan Community Center's SnackPack program to students beyond elementary age. SnackPack for Kids provides a bag filled with with 9 healthy snacks to children identified by schools as being at-risk for hunger or food insecurity on the weekends.
Bonnie Faitak, Samaritan Kids coordinator, said the program expanded in 18 middle, junior and high schools and serves about 7,000 children each week in Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll counties.
"You wouldn't think these needs would be possible here in Northwest Arkansas," Collins said. "They are here and we want to help."
NW News on 01/30/2015
Print Headline: Agencies focus on eliminating childhood poverty