Turning Backs On Children

You can’t beat our sense of timing here in West Virginia. In one respect, it has been perfect — in a catastrophic sense.

Children by the thousands are the innocent victims of the drug abuse crisis. Yet at a time when they need a certain kind of help the most, many in the Mountain State have turned their backs on the kids.

That didn’t happen here in the Northern Panhandle, thankfully — but it nearly did.

Children with only one parent at home, or those who, for one reason or another, have neither mother nor father living with them often need a good friend on whom to lean. Maybe it’s someone to help with homework, to take them to the zoo, to provide mature advice or to serve as a role model.

Here in West Virginia, drug abuse means far more children need that kind of help.

For more than a century, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization has matched adult mentors (“bigs”) with children aged 5 and up (“littles”). The bigs, working with littles’ parents or guardians, can make important differences in children’s lives.

BBBS is just what some young victims of parents who succumbed to drug abuse need. But even as that becomes more obvious, it no longer is available to many Mountain State children — because adults where they live won’t pay a few dollars to keep BBBS alive.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia formerly served children in Kanawha, Jackson, Putnam and Raleigh counties. The Raleigh County branch closed down last year because of financial problems.

Then, earlier this fall, the entire BBBS unit serving Kanawha, Jackson and Putnam counties shut down for the same reason.

There’s just one BBBS unit remaining in our state, in Huntington (though the Eastern Panhandle is served to some extent by a chapter in Hagerstown, Maryland).

Just when the number of children who need “bigs” is soaring, they will not be available in most of the state — because of a lack of money that, in the context of many fund drives for lesser purposes, is pitifully small.

BBBS shut down in Wheeling about three years ago, also because of money problems.

But two men — folks whose work for many years may meet at least some of the requirements for sainthood — did something about that. They are George Smoulder, then with the United Way of the Upper Ohio, and John Moses of Youth Services System in Wheeling. They got their heads together and a new organization, the Youth Mentoring Network, was established. It provides Big Brothers Big Sisters-style mentors for children.

The network, run by Connie Ball, isn’t in any immediate financial danger. It can always use contributions, of course.

It also can use more adults willing to be mentors — and Ball & company are always on the lookout for children who might benefit from the program. If you want more information, call her at 304-218-2857.

Thank heaven — and I don’t write that lightly — people in the Northern Panhandle and Huntington are still helping the kids.

Why, though, have so many others in West Virginia — people known for being concerned about children — let the youngsters down?

Come on, folks. You’re better than that. Little boys and girls need help. And you’re going to say no?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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