SPEAKING OUT

Dorothy Benson: Supporting families to help them overcome cyclical poverty


Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 11:33 p.m.

We've all seen stressed parents in parking lots or busy shopping centers who talk down to their children or say inappropriate things that demean their children. Sometimes it's just a stressed-out parent, but sometimes it's a parent that doesn't know any better because “that's how they were raised.”

It's a fact that these children are learning behavior and language that will drag them down when they enter the public school system with other, better-prepared children, and it will negatively impact their place in this world and perpetuate the cycle of poverty their family is caught up in.

It is also a fact that the sooner you intervene in a young child's life, the better the chance of changing their lives for the better and saving all of us heartache and costs down the road.

The Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG) is working to support families that lack the economic, social or cultural capital to overcome cyclical poverty. We do this by offering resources and opportunity at our SWAG Family Resource Center, working hand-in-hand with our major partner, Partnership for Strong Families.

Partnership for Strong Families provides child welfare services to protect local children from abuse, neglect and abandonment. It also uses training/skill-building programs, family and child counseling, and community resources to accomplish its goals, which is why we make for an ideal partnership.

SWAG has worked tirelessly for a family resource center that has become the hub of the SWAG area, strengthening the area's sense of community. We fundraised and built a playground that was a vacant lot used as a dump, and we are now working with the Alachua County Commissioners, the Alachua County Health Department, Rotary and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation to bring a satellite health department clinic online by the end of this year across the street from our center.

All three of these initiatives will help alleviate the health and educational disparities that create barriers for those living in this area, and we hope our work will serve as a blueprint for other areas in our community that experience similar issues.

But we're not done, and we're currently looking for partners that can make our latest dream come true, an early learning childcare center for preschoolers, with enough space to provide training and certifications for parents through Santa Fe College. We are fundraising to purchase and renovate a building near the SWAG Family Resource Center and health clinic, an area where parents who would benefit most can easily access it.

Through this initiative, parents would not only gain the skills and resources they need to be the best parents they can be, but they could also have the opportunity to begin a successful and fulfilling career as child care professionals or certified nursing assistants. With significant partnerships such as with Santa Fe College, the possibilities are endless.

In our efforts to purchase and renovate a building, we just need one or two community partners that share our dream and can help us run an early learning center/training facility. We know we're not qualified to run a childcare facility or early learning center, but we know there is a professional out there who can serve as the final piece to this exciting development.

Our greater community can help lift up at-risk children and make the difference by providing supportive, successful mentorship and support. Education and association with successful people are keys to breaking cyclical poverty.

We can do this, if we have the will. Are you the partner we've been looking for?

Dorothy Benson is president of the Southwest Advocacy Group.

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