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Archive for Thursday, June 24, 2004

Forum examines Lawrence’s efforts to reach out to poor, children

June 24, 2004

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For many children, Lawrence is a wonderful place. But for some, life here is hard.

"When I tell people that one-third of the children in the Lawrence schools are on free or reduced lunches, they look at me like that can't be true," said Hank Booth, a community advocate and general manager at KLWN/KLZR radio. "We've got a lot of families in Lawrence who are just getting by, marginally."

Booth's comments were part of a two-hour discussion Wednesday on Lawrence's network of social services, conducted by Kansas Health Foundation officials at Marriott SpringHill Suites. About 30 people participated.

Led by president and CEO Marni Vliet, foundation officials are playing host to similar meetings this summer throughout to determine how best to go about improving the health of Kansans.

Vliet spent much of the first hour praising Lawrence for being one of the state's most progressive communities, especially in the number of services available to families and young children.

But when she asked what Lawrence "hasn't done well," many in the audience said the needs of the poor were outstripping the community's ability to respond.

"I'm dealing with 10 families -- families that have children -- that are homeless," said Jeanette Collier, human services coordinator at the East Central Kansas Community Action Program office in Lawrence. "Working families are struggling."

State Sen. Mark Buhler, R-Lawrence, warned that the city's business community could not keep pace with the ever-growing demand for charitable giving.

"We say yes to kids -- I don't think we've ever turned anyone down," said Buhler, referring to his employer, Stephens Real Estate. "But when you stand back and look at all the demands we get every day, you have to ask yourself, 'Will this ever end?'"

Buhler told the group that "20 years ago there were two charity golf tournaments in town. Today, there are 25 or 30."

Vliet said the foundation was leaning toward making services for young children -- birth to age 5 -- the foundation's top priority for the coming years.

"We know good health is directly related to education and success in school," she said. "And we know the more prepared you are for kindergarten, the more likely you are to graduate from high school."

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