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Forum in Martinsburg aimed at reaching out to help solve the child poverty issue

March 16, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Nothing brought to mind more about the suffering that children who grow up poor and destitute endure than the testimony of a young woman Saturday at a forum organized to combat child poverty.

Kristi Cotter, 23, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., in an emotional recounting of her life story that brought tears to some audience members, told of resorting to stealing, drug abuse and even prostitution. She grew up with uncaring parents, without roots, love and guidance in dirt-poor surroundings.

The forum, one of 12 held across West Virginia, was sponsored by the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Family Coalition. The local event was organized by the Eastern Panhandle’s Our Children, Our Future coalition.

About 60 community members and representatives from more than a dozen area churches and social services agencies attended the forum at Westview Baptist Church at 301 Louisiana Ave.

Featured speakers were state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, and Del. Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, both of whom have been championing child poverty legislation in the West Virginia Legislature.

“We all have a role in this and we all need to come together,” said Unger, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty. “Government has a role and we each have a role. You’re the child’s advocate.”

The Rev. Dr. G. Edward Grove of Shepherdstown, W.Va., who helped organize the local forum, said the event was a chance to show legislators and church leaders how they can help solve the child poverty issue.

“There is a profound need to work together in the Panhandle and to send an important message to our community to work together,” Grove told the audience. “Everyone should leave here today with something that you can do to end child poverty.”

It is estimated that 30 percent of West Virginia children up to the age of 6 are eligible for the National School Lunch Program.

Lawrence said 15 percent of Jefferson County children are eligible, including 9 percent in Ranson alone.

“There’s not a whole lot of difference between Jefferson County and southern West Virginia,” she said.

Poverty leaves a negative impact on a child’s development and often leads to serious social problems as the child grows up, speakers said Saturday.

“I learned how to survive on the streets. I grew up with no good home to go to and I had no support,” Cotter said. “I grew up to steal and learn how to make money. I got to be good at bad things. I was bogged down all my life. I had no faith, no self-esteem. My parents didn’t care.”

She credits her life’s turnaround to help from state agencies and mostly from members of New Hope Church who reached out to help her. She said she has learned that “we are better than our past.”

“Now, I reach out when I see children growing up like I did, children who don’t have a voice,” Cotter said.

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