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Grants treat the symptons, but foundation wants to excise poverty's roots

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Six agencies have been awarded a share of about $100,000 for programs that address the root causes of poverty in the latest round of grants from the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation.

Attacking poverty from the root is the most effective way to improve the quality of life, but it’s also the most neglected in Georgetown County, said Geales Sands, the foundation’s director.

“A lot are working to address the symptoms of poverty,” she said. “People in general tend to look around at the surface of the water and not see what’s at the bottom of the ocean.”

The foundation receives the fewest applications for funds in the area of root causes, which is one of four core areas the foundation uses its resources to support, she added.

Hunger, inadequate housing and inability to afford heath care are examples of symptoms. The foundation supports agencies that help treat those symptoms and believes that role is important, Sands said.

But she would also like to see more of a focus on treating the conditions that cause those symptoms, such as teen pregnancy, disease and illiteracy.

“Teen pregnancy is a big cause of poverty, but there’s only group that’s addressing that in Georgetown County,” Sands said.

That’s the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, based in Columbia.

According to statistics from the campaign, children run a much higher risk of growing up in poverty if born to teen mothers and the risk increase if the parents were unmarried when the child was born or the mother did not receive a high school diploma or GED. One of those factors creates a 27 percent chance of poverty while all three factors increases it to 64 percent. If none of those things happen the risk is only 7 percent.

Children born into poverty under those circumstances are unlikely to ever get out, Sands said, and the cycle often repeats with their children.

In Georgetown County, 80 percent of teen births are to unmarried mothers, said Mary Prince, a Pawleys Island area resident who is senior advisor in research and planning for the campaign.

The campaign was one of the foundation’s recent grant recipients. It received $15,000 for a program to improve the sexual health of Georgetown County teens by forming partnerships between community colleges and health clinics. The program facilitates a partnership between Smith Medical Clinic and Horry-Georgetown Technical College that puts a clinic volunteer to distribute condoms and sexual health information, and schedule appointments at the clinic for eligible teens.

“In South Carolina, we can’t distribute contraceptives in high schools, but we can reach out to these 18- and 19-year-olds,” Prince said. Teens in that age group account for more than 60 percent of teen pregnancies in the county, she said.

Miss Ruby’s Kids, an early literacy group, will use a $20,000 grant it received from the foundation to grow programs that help parents get at-risk toddlers ready for pre-school and pairs students in school with mentors.

Miss Ruby’s Kids sends paid home visitors to works with 48 families that have 2- and 3-year-old children. It hopes to increase that to 56 next year. It hopes to have enough volunteers mentors to work with school children next year, up from 46 this year.

“One of the main reasons people live in poverty is that they don’t have the education they need to go out and get a good job,” said Betsy Marlow, executive director and co-founder of Miss Ruby’s Kids. “If you don’t send children to school ready to succeed, they’re going to learn something; it’s just a matter of what they’re going to learn and how much.”

Working with children to help them succeed in school from an early age increases the likelihood that those children will graduate and become contributing members of society.

“What we’re trying to do is break that cycle of poverty and failure,” Marlow said.

“When women get educated, birth rates fall, so they have less children they have to take care of and more money to go around for the children they do have.”

Some parents have decided to go back to school themselves while they and their children are receiving at home visits. Marlow can’t say if the two are related, but there’s no question parents benefit from Miss Ruby’s Kids, learning new skills for parenting.

Sands said she would like to see more people “widen their vision” and get involved in addressing root causes of poverty in Georgetown County.

“They need to not have tunnel vision as to what their interests are,” she said.

But getting involved is the key, no matter how they choose to do it.

“There are 55 nonprofits in this area and they all need volunteers and people to serve on their boards,” she said. “There are plenty of opportunities to get involved. If we suffer from a disease of indifference, everybody in Georgetown County is going to suffer.”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at the foundation’s website

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