By Ret Boney
As it honors a lifelong champion for children, a statewide advocacy group is working collaboratively to persuade state lawmakers to enact reforms to improve the lives of the state’s children now.
“We work every day on children’s issues, but we don’t work alone,” says Barbara Bradley, president and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina. “It takes stakeholders from throughout the state to benefit children over the long term.”
More than 200 people gathered June 13 to honor and celebrate Tom Lambeth’s lifelong work to better the lives of North Carolinians, with a spotlight on its youngest citizens.
Lambeth, former executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, received the second annual North Carolina Children’s Lifetime Legacy award from Action for Children.
Lambeth follows in the tracks of NASCAR great Kyle Petty and his wife Pattie, who received the first annual Legacy award last year in recognition of their Victory Junction Gang Camp, which serves children with serious chronic illnesses.
“Last year we honored the Pettys, who do direct service,” Bradley says. “Tom really works on all the system changes that make it possible to do direct service for children.”
The impact of Lambeth’s work has been felt in several areas that impact North Carolina children and their families, she says, including public and higher education, social justice, economic development, access to healthcare and rural development.
Bradley says the event grossed well over $100,000 for Action for Children, more than double last year’s take of $45,000.
The group donated half the funds the event raised last year to the Victory Junction camp, which is located in Randolph County and is part of the network of Hole in the Wall Gang camps inspired by actor Paul Newman.
Bradley says proceeds from this year’s event, significant given Action for Children’s annual budget of almost $1 million, will go a long way toward moving the needle on the group’s five primary focus areas — health, economic security, safety, juvenile justice and education.
The group aims to make significant, and measurable, progress on each of those issues over the next decade or so, Bradley says.
But in the short-term, Action for Children, in partnership with other advocacy groups, is working to persuade state lawmakers to enact reforms to improve the lives of the state’s children now.
The group is backing Carolina Cares for Children, a measure that would expand access to Medicaid and Health Choice, two insurance programs, to include more lower-income children and allow all families to buy in.
“We’re second in the country in loss of employer-provided health insurance,” says Bradley, noting that more than 260,000 kids in North Carolina lack insurance. “Providing insurance for dependents is getting increasingly expensive.”
Action for Children also is pushing for a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit program, which provides tax breaks for the working poor and would benefit an estimated 800,000 people in North Carolina.
Currently almost half North Carolina children are members of low-income families, and almost a quarter live in poverty, Bradley says.
Both efforts are included in the budget proposed by the N.C. House of Representatives and have Gov. Easley’s support.
Neither was included in the state Senate’s plan, but both programs will be taken up by Senate members when they meet with the House to hash though spending priorities before the legislative session ends this summer.
In the years to come, Action for Children will be taking a hard look at economic security, including ways children and families can build assets.
Child care subsidies, dental health, child mental health and juvenile justice are other priorities, Bradley says.
To make headway on such far-reaching issues, Bradley says Action for Children will need the support of stakeholders across the state.
With more than 30 sponsors and 200 people in attendance for the Legacy awards, she’s encouraged.
“One of the things we’ve been working to do is to engage many communities in our work,” she says. “Not just from a policy or legislative standpoint, but also the business, medical, faith and education communities.”