Quality of Life the Focus of Weirton Forum

It’s about spreading information in hopes of instigating reforms in households and within the state’s law books, and those behind this effort will visit the Northern Panhandle in less than a week.

Over the past few months, officials sharing the Our Children, Our Future campaign have been traveling the Mountain State listening to what issues are important to families and what new legislation might be introduced to improve those issues. In Weirton, community teams from Marshall to Hancock counties will be pitching their ideas on Aug. 17 for new policies to encourage and support foster families, boost access to healthy food at food banks, and use taxes on cigarettes to fund improved health care for West Virginians, among other issues. The forum will be staged from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Mary H. Weir Public Library located at 3442 Main St. in Weirton.

These grassroots campaign teams are looking for individuals and community groups with similar ambitions to offer their support and help develop their campaigns.

Two-year-old Jackie Byrd enjoys one of the slides at the new Elks Playground in East Wheeling.
Two-year-old Jackie Byrd enjoys one of the slides at the new Elks Playground in East Wheeling.

“In order for the State Legislature to sit up and pay attention to what West Virginia’s families are telling them is important, we really need the people of the Northern Panhandle to get involved in moments like this and help us build a strong campaign with lots of voices,” said Stephanie Tyree, the director of Community Engagement and Policy for the W.Va. Community Development Hub. “You have a chance to be a part of history.

“We feel it works best when members of the community collect to share their concerns and their thoughts on how the problems can be fixed,” she said. “There are some issues that are specific to certain areas of our state, and that’s why it’s been important for this campaign to visit each region. That way we can get a handle on those issues so our lawmakers can be aware of exactly what those concerns are.”

The August 17 event in Weirton is the latest in a series of workshops around the state to gather support for locally grown policies aimed at reducing child poverty, assisting families, improving education options, and making West Virginia a safer and healthier place to live and raise a family.

“It’s been proven that education improves our quality of life, so getting that information out to the people is a very important part of these gatherings,” Tyree explained. “But these forums are also about letting the people of our state know that they can be heard.

“We have far too many children living in poverty right now in West Virginia, and in some cases the problems can be fixed by addressing the current policies,” she added. “Our Children, Our Future is a program that is about discovering the issues, figuring out how they can be addressed, and then taking that information to the people in charge of the laws and policies in our state.”

These grassroots policy forums have been orchestrated for the past three years, and the efforts have been noticed by state lawmakers. In that time, laws have been amended and created in the attempt to improve the quality of life in West Virginia. The list of policy victories born from Our Children, Our Future policy workshops includes the following:

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  • Medicaid expansion — health insurance provided for 150,000 working West Virginians;
  • Minimum wage raised to $8.75;
  • Future Fund Act — created endowment for future state investments through natural gas tax;
  • Stopped budget cuts to child care programs three years running;
  • Feed to Achieve Act — expanded school breakfast and lunch programs;
  • Juvenile Justice reform — reduce child incarceration by changing truancy laws;
  • Pregnant workers fairness act passed — providing seating and breaks to pregnant workers;
  • Move to Improve — to make sure kids get 30 minutes of physical activity every day at school;
  • Reduced abandoned and dilapidated buildings through creation of land reuse agencies; and
  • Prison reform to reduce overcrowding in state prisons.
Byrd was taken to the playground by his grandfather Paul Kovach of East Wheeling.
Byrd was taken to the playground by his grandfather Paul Kovach of East Wheeling.

“These are important conversations that need to be held in our state, and they need to be heard by those of us who are charged with establishing and maintaining the laws in our state,” said W.Va. Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-3rd). “It’s our responsibility as state lawmakers to pay attention to what issues the people are experiencing and to address them in the best ways possible. If we’re not doing that, then we are not doing the job that we were elected to do.

“I think there are times when our state lawmakers concentrate on the issues that are making the headlines, but the people of our state should always be aware of what we hold as most important, and improving the quality of life for our young people is at the top of the list,” he said. “I know one of the biggest reasons why I am honored to represent the people of the Third House District is that I want to do everything I can to improve the quality of life in our state since we continue to place last in the categories that pertain to the well being of our residents.”

The workshop’s agenda is as follows:

  • 9:00 – 9:30 Registration
  • 9:30 – 9:50 Opening Sessions: Local Welcome and Youth Speakers
  • 9:50 – 10:30 Policy Pitches: What are the Issues We’ll Make Changes on in 2016?
  • 10:30 – 10:45 Break
  • 10:45 – 12:00 Trainings:
    • Effective Advocacy — How to Turn a Problem into a Policy
    • Creative Communications — Using Media and Messaging to Advance Your Issue
  • 12:00 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:30 – 1:15 Legislative Panel: State Legislators and Community Leaders Share Their Vision for the 2016 Session
  • 1:30 – 2:45 Trainings:
    • Effective Advocacy — How to Turn a Problem into a Policy
    • Creative Communications — Using Media and Messaging to Advance Your Issue
  • 3:00 – 3:45 – Strategies for Ending Child Poverty: Long-Term Visioning and  Candidate Trainings
  • 3:45 – 4:00 Closing

The workshops are being hosted by the Our Children, Our Future campaign, which is a coalition of West Virginia community organizations working to make West Virginia’s families and children healthier, happier, and more prosperous. To learn more or to register, visit www.ocofwv.org/WhatsHappening.

Tyree can be contacted at (304) 360-2110, or by email at s.tyree@wvhub.org.