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Ed O’Malley: Change requires human resources

  • Published Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The numbers are staggering and heartbreaking. I won’t waste valuable space sharing a laundry list of stats. Just one: Nearly 2 of every 10 children in Kansas live in poverty.

For close to a decade, this trend line has been going exactly in the wrong direction.

Most of us don’t get past the numbers. Behind them are real Kansas children. The kid down the street waiting for the school bus, the toddler squirming in the pew between Mom and Dad in front of you in church, the newborn strapped into the car seat in the next vehicle at the stoplight.

We’ve known for decades that children in poverty tend to grow up to be adults in poverty. The implications to our society are immense. More people in poverty means more stress on systems like health care and public education.

We all lose when people can’t reach their full human potential.

Most of us don’t get involved. And I don’t offer that as a judgment, simply an assessment of the on-the-ground practical reality.

At the Kansas Leadership Center, we’ve partnered with the Topeka-based Kansas Action for Children, whose vision is to make Kansas the best place to raise a child.

This work will involve a lot of what we do best at KLC – equipping people who care with knowledge and skills, putting them in a position to make positive change for the common good. We’ll work with Kansans toward systems change.

By its very nature, that means some work in the public policy arena. Government has a voice in this conversation. We can adjust state tax policy, create incentives for savings, expand the safety net – a whole host of things can be done. But public policy tinkering alone cannot be the answer.

It will mean engaging what we at KLC call the unusual voices. If the implications to our society are, in fact, immense, then it follows that a lot of people and groups have a stake in this conversation.

Especially those who don’t traditionally get past the numbers.

Our friends and neighbors who make up the anti-poverty human resource infrastructure in Kansas – those who live the numbers – are increasingly worried. Nonprofits, government agencies, schools, food banks and shelters see the daily struggles of families and children.

Struggles most of us see only as trend lines.

As we’ve gone upstream to examine the root of the problem, we’ve identified that we want to change the conversation surrounding childhood poverty in Kansas.

It will take human resources to change the trend line.

When I think about the potential of every child in Kansas – an entire generation of human resources – I get pretty excited and want to do all I can to ensure this state we call home is the best place to raise a child.

Ed O’Malley is president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita.

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