In response to growing concern about the future of Central Florida’s children, dozens of local advocates and issue experts recently gathered to discuss new ways of working together to move the needle on critical issues.
Hosted by Heart of Florida United Way, the Stand Up! Speak Up! event helped launch a new advocacy initiative led by the Children’s Leadership Alliance of Orange County (CLAOC), comprised of a government, nonprofit and private-sector leaders committed to creating a brighter future for children.
Dick Batchelor, CLAOC co-chair and a former state representative, discussed the current state of children’s issues across Florida, which ranks 44th in the nation for the economic well-being of children according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
To reverse this, Batchelor asked the group to join with CLAOC in urging legislators to restore vital funding to education, health and social service programs benefitting low-income children and families. “We need to send the message that it’s time to re-invest in children and push these issues to the top of the legislative agenda,” he said.
Characterizing the crisis as a “ticking time bomb,” United Way President/CEO Robert H. (Bob) Brown said failure to address poverty and other problems will put thousands of children on the fast track to school failure, underemployment, incarceration and reduced life expectancy.
“Aside from a terrible personal toll, these children will be unprepared to succeed in the future, leaving our community and nation unable to compete in the global economy,” Brown said.
Also speaking at the event was Linda Alexionok, Executive Director and chief lobbyist of The Children’s Campaign, a statewide advocacy group based in Tallahassee, who outlined key steps for improving collaboration, activism and impact.
With further strategy sessions planned for early 2013, the event concluded with a group text message being sent to state representatives Chris Dorworth and Geraldine Thompson, urging them to “Stand Up and Speak Up” for children.
“Advocacy is about communication,” Batchelor said. “Today we are taking the first steps in asking our community, state and national leaders to keep children, youth and families top of mind as they create and support legislation and appropriations.”