April 1, 2011 in City

Our Kids effort celebrates fifth anniversary

Founders celebrate success, longevity of advocacy campaign
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Marilee Roloff, chairwoman of this year’s Our Kids: Our Business effort, visits with Crosswalk Early Head Start program children, left to right, Gabe Watson, 2, Eddie Taylor IV, 3, Clementine Share-Pettit, 1, and Hymilee Summers, 1.
(Full-size photo)

On the Web: Find information on the campaign, a calendar of events, registration opportunities, area media partners and more at ourkidsspokane.org.

The fifth Our Kids: Our Business effort begins today.

The monthlong community initiative is designed to launch children and teens into healthy adulthood.

Behind the event this year, as every year, are two of Spokane’s social services stalwarts: Mary Ann Murphy, executive director of Partners with Families and Children: Spokane; and Marilee Roloff, president and CEO of the regional chapter of Volunteers of America.

Between them, they have 85 years of experience in social services. The two women recently brainstormed five “things” that stand out for them at the beginning of this fifth Our Kids: Our Business effort.

It still exists

This surprises them both.

“Year three seems to be a hump for things,” Roloff said. “So if you get over three and are still going strong … well, we are.”

The Our Kids effort began in a brainstorming luncheon. About 15 people attended, representing media, law enforcement, social services and the courts. The focus: How to prevent child abuse through a community effort.

Now, about 50 people regularly attend the Our Kids monthly meetings, and more than 350 individuals and agencies share information through an email network maintained by Dina Patrick of Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.

And the focus has broadened from child abuse prevention to the nurturing of all kids at all levels.

• The popularity of the pinwheels

The call-to-action symbol for preventing child abuse used to be a blue ribbon, Murphy said. The pinwheel was chosen for the Our Kids effort, and now every April they are planted in gardens, splashed on banners and crayoned into children’s drawings.

“It represents hope, joy and innocence,” Murphy said. “It’s been 1,000 times more effective as a call for action.”

• The energy of outside experts

At the Our Kids capstone luncheons each year, speakers from outside the region connect the dots between strong communities and the health of children.

Dr. Robert Anda, a senior researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the 2008 speaker.

“When we think about people in trouble, we like to think it’s someone else. He explained that it’s all of us,” Murphy said.

“People were figuring out their own adverse childhood experiences, and the way in which it explained their family.”

Roloff was impressed with Boeing Co. executive Bob Watt, the 2007 luncheon speaker, who choked up telling the audience about the racism faced by his biracial grandchildren.

“That was the moment people in the room understood here’s our humanity, our connection,” Roloff remembered. “Here’s why we’re all here.”

• The November setback

Last fall, Spokane voters overwhelmingly rejected a Children’s Investment Fund. It would have raised about $5 million annually through a property tax levy.

Our Kids: Our Business generated and supported the idea. Some said the defeat might mean the end of Our Kids, but organizations and individuals didn’t drop out.

“We’re used to being beat up,” Roloff joked. “We’re fighting this grand fight all the time. We’re in Olympia saying please help the children, please feed the children, please put the children on health care. And we only win once in a while.”

  • Young people will carry it forth

The teens who spoke out at a dropout summit one year caught the attention of business people, who finally made the connection between dropout rates and marginal work forces, Roloff said.

Young artists who interpreted child abuse and prevention through artwork last year took the effort “somewhere we had never dreamed,” Murphy said.

But will there be an Our Kids: Our Business in five years, especially after Murphy and Roloff step away?

“Maybe not,” Roloff said. “Maybe there will be something better.”

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