Op-ed: We need action to improve the picture for kids in poverty

Child Poverty Collaborative is a beginning

Lynn Marmer is executive director of the Child Poverty Collaborative.

Imagine you are on a relay team. You know it will take teamwork to win the race. Individual performance must be excellent; however, it is the teamwork that will win the day. On your team are strong, powerful, motivated people. All of them want the best for the team and for themselves.

Lynn Marmer

However, one in three members of your team live in poverty. In fact, 44 percent of your team -- Cincinnati children and youth under age 18 -- are living in poverty right now. That is double the national poverty rate (22 percent). For African American children under age 5 in the City of Cincinnati, it is even worse: nearly 60 percent of those members of your team live in poverty.

Your relay team -- our team -- is competing with the best in our region, state, our nation, and the world. We are all on the same team ... and as a team we are only as strong as our weakest members.

Leaders of our city and county have come together to change this picture, to change the trajectory for children in our region.

This is not “just a city problem.” The number of children and adults in poverty living in the county is also growing. The entire team in our area is impacted. It is not due to lack of caring or dedication or effort. Something more is needed.

The Child Poverty Collaborative is a commitment from all sections of our community to come together to create and implement an action plan that will dramatically reduce the number of children living in poverty.

We are in good company. Other communities -- Portland, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and others -- also have decided that local initiatives are needed to move beyond local, state and federal programs that provide a basic safety net.

So how do we begin? We begin with research -- using a world-class firm that will build on the excellent work already being done at XU and UC to provide us with a clear and objective diagnosis of key drivers of poverty, the effectiveness of local programs, and applicable lessons from other communities.

We also will begin with deep listening and open dialogue. With our neighbors who live in poverty, our teachers who daily touch the lives of children, our dedicated service providers, academics, experts and citizens from all walks of life, we must embark on a journey of listening, being open to new ideas and challenging the status quo.

In essence, the purpose of the Child Poverty Collaborative is to co-create with our community a road map to a different future for our children and then work together to bring it to life.

This isn’t easy -- or it would already be done! I have enjoyed a wonderful, long career in many capacities: as a teacher, elected school board member, city planner, attorney, and finally, for 18 years as the public affairs leader with Kroger. Over the past 30-plus years, I also have been an advocate for the hungry, promoter of minority businesses and women in leadership, and a partner in the economic development of our city and our neighborhoods.

I accepted the role of executive director of the CPC because I know and love our community. I know the strength, determination, compassion and smarts of our citizens and leaders. I am fully confident we have the human capital and will to dramatically reduce the number of children living in poverty. We have wonderful partners like the Urban League, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Community Action Agency, Cincinnati Children's, the business community, faith-based leaders, Mayor Cranley, city and county leaders, public and non-profits, philanthropic organizations, and many others who are committed to the success of this effort.

This is work that needs the heads, hearts and hands of all of us and more to bring this together. To change the trajectory for our children. To have a winning team in the relay of life for all of our children, and to continue to grow and prosper as a city and region.

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