The following was published in the Argus Observer on October 11, 2017.
ONTARIO — To get a better look at the issues facing children in the state, executive director of a statewide nonprofit kicked off her two-day community conversations tour in Ontario on Tuesday.
The organization, Children First for Oregon, seeks to improve the lives of children in the state by advocating for the rights of children, as well as informing decision-makers of solution to issues facing youth. The organization also focuses on child-abuse prevention, foster youth advocacy and legislative solutions, as well as publishing research and data.
As part of its mission, the community conversations tour includes 11 counties in the state to gain insight of challenges facing youth. For the first time in recent history, the organization visited Malheur County, said Kat Hendrix, outreach and communications director for the nonprofit.
On Tuesday, Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon, visited with numerous people from various local agencies that work with children. Her hope, as she expressed during the conversations, was to get a better a look at the issues facing kids in the Malheur County community.
“We are looking for systemic change, policy level change for children. We believe Oregon should be the best place to a be kid,” Hunt said. “So what’s it going to take to make that happen and for your community to be the best place to be a kid?”
The aim of the community conversations is to learn the needs “by going across the state and thinking about and learning from everyone what’s working well, what are the challenges and successes for kids and families.”
To do that, Hunt hosted numerous sessions throughout the day and will continue to do so today, when she will visit with numerous organizations, including Boys & Girls Club of the Western Treasure Valley, Ontario Chamber of Commerce and EUVALCREE, among others.
In one small group discussion consisting of employees for Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Department of Human Services and more, individuals expressed concerns for a lack of transitional housing for youth. Whether it be for youth transitioning out of foster care and into adulthood, or temporary housing for runaway or homeless youth, there is a need.
Hunt also met with the members of Malheur County Cradle to Career, a group of organizations, citizens, parents, service providers and schools whose focus is the success of local youth.
During the monthly meeting hosted by Malheur County Cradle to Career, the floor opened to Hunt. She, in turn, opened the conversation for everyone in the room.
“You guys know your community and your kids and your families better than we ever will. You guys are the ones all around living, working and serving here,” Hunt said to the room. “Our goal is to hear from across the state about unique and common challenges so we can do a better job working with you and for you in representing the needs of kids.”
Among the room, there were several who mentioned the unique struggle of living in eastern Oregon, citing the challenges of geographical equity and geographical economy.
Another concern was that of a lack of resources, including funding and private foundations to sustain programs targeted for youth.
Aside from challenges, Hunt also called for the room to recognize strengths and successes.
For that question in particular, a large majority of the response was living in a supportive community.
“Our mission is to empower and support and to offer ourselves as a help in your advocacy for kids. Together, as you know, we have so much more of a voice,” Hunt said.
As the information is gathered across the state, she said, it will later be shared to identify common challenges and to identify solutions.