Anyone can advocate, regardless of age or stature.
Advocacy expert Margaret Nimmo Crowe made this clear at the start of her presentation Thursday by thanking Aiden Coleman, a Williamsburg sixth grader.
Coleman, a Berkeley Middle School student, helped advocate for a bill naming the Eastern garter snake Virginia's state reptile. That bill cleared the Virginia Senate this past General Assembly session.
"Aiden is actually pretty savvy," said Crowe, executive director of Voices for Virginia's Children. "These are some good lessons if we're trying to advocate for children."
Leaders, health and service providers and educators from around Greater Williamsburg filled the room Thursday to hear Crowe speak on the topic of advocating for children.
The Williamsburg Health Foundation organized the lecture, held at the College of William and Mary's School of Education. Advocacy for increased health opportunity is a new focus for the health foundation, said Jeanne Zeidler, foundation president and CEO.
"Children is just a really great place to start," Zeidler said following the lecture. "You are really impacting the future. It's long term."
A Richmond-based nonprofit, Voices for Virginia's Children champions public policies to improve the lives of children and is the state's only independent, multi-issue child policy and advocacy organization, according to its website.
Crowe has served at Voices for more than 11 years. In that time, she has become a leading voice in the state for children. She's also mother to a fifth-grade daughter.
"Margaret and Voices helps … to effectively focus our energy on behalf of children," said Allison Brody, the foundation's director of community resource development and engagement.
During the presentation, Crowe explained Voices' recent legislative agenda, including juvenile justice reform, children's mental health, Medicaid expansion and the "Fostering Futures" program for teenagers aging out of foster care. She also shared advocacy strategies.
Crowe noted that last year Virginia was one of 10 states where the rate of child poverty increased.
"To think that our child poverty is getting worse is disturbing," she said.
And, like any other locality, "Williamsburg … is not immune to still high child poverty rates," Crowe said following the presentation.
In 2014, 1,729 children in James City County were living in poverty. That's 11.5 percent of children living in the county, according to statistics from Voices' Kids Count Data Center. Williamsburg's rate in 2014 was 24.4 percent, or 373 children, and for York County the rate was 7 percent, or 1,105 children.
Crowe said the numbers reveal pockets of need.
"In general, Williamsburg-James City County is doing pretty well," she said. But where it might be perceived as a well-off community, "it could mask the fact that there are some incredibly important pockets of need."
And you don't have to be a policy expert to have voice, to give voice to others.
"Everybody has a voice," Crowe said. "Everybody has two legislators … and they work for you."
State laws that affect families and children are made every year, Crowe said. "Most people don't realize how big that impact can be, and that they can have a voice."
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.
For more information
Visit vakids.org. You can access the Kids Count Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.