Florida Voters Who Campaign for Kids

Julee Newberger
February 11, 1999

Campaigning for children is not a pastime for professional advocates only. According to Roy Miller, Campaign Manager for the Florida Children's Campaign citizens young and old from all across the state are lending their time and experience to making Florida a better place to raise kids.

These Republicans, Democrats, and Independents won't cast a vote for a candidate who does not offer an agenda for children and families. And they won't let them forget their promises to children and families after election day.

Volunteers come from outside the day-to-day provision of direct service. They include representatives from the business community, active senior citizens, stay-at-home moms, and more. "Once you get a good core group," Miller says, "it's easier to get more people involved."

It's also easier to get people involved when the public plays a large part in setting the campaign's agenda. Campaign volunteers spend a lot of energy building consensus with citizens throughout the state about the top three issues facing children. They build the three-pronged campaign platform at Community Action Days in which community leaders from all venues get together to prioritize Florida children's needs.

Narrowing the Agenda
"You can't overload consumers." says Dr. Pam Patrick, who has been with the Florida Children's Campaign since 1992. "Twelve major problems for kids is too overwhelming. You've got to narrow it down."

 

Patrick, a clinical social worker, had long been active in the community. When she heard about the Florida Children's Campaign, she asked what concerned citizens in her community could do.

Patrick and her friends began by setting a very limited agenda, and headed off their first year by getting organized. "We focused on voter registration," Patrick says. "We passed out nonpartisan information about how to register, how to encourage others to register, and how to learn what children in Florida need to grow into successful adults."

The local group attended every event in town where they had the opportunity to speak or educate the public about the needs of Florida children and families. "We'd talk to any civic group that needed speakers," Patrick says.

The outreach paid off. That year, Patrick and her group registered 2,500 voters. Patrick believes that people who care about kids don't necessarily realize they can influence decision-making through the ballot box—unless they become informed. She uses the metaphor of an empty bucket: "If you think your contribution won't make a difference, you have to realize it takes thousands of drops to fill the whole thing."

It Takes All Kinds
Volunteers from a wide geographic and professional spectrum also add to the Campaign's strength. Kim Engstrom, a freelance TV producer and parent of a 2-year-old, helps the campaign develop their media outreach. She is currently using her creative and production skills to plan a statewide galvanizing event, along the lines of Hands Across America, which will bring additional attention to children's issues. "It's basically about educating people," Engstrom says. "Even if it's just by voting, you can have a voice, and you can help."

 

Volunteer chair Barbara Ann Blue, president of a management consulting firm and grandmother of two, see her primary role in the campaign as making links with the business community. "Businesses are concerned about cost-effectiveness and the future of the workforce," she says. "The earlier we invest in kids, the more successful citizens we'll have in the long run."

Blue encourages members of the business community to support early intervention, child care, and school readiness for all kids. "If you care about the future," Blue says, "you can't afford not to get involved."

What else do people need to know about campaigning for kids? According to David Voss, a marketing representative for Apple Computers, there are several things potential KidsCampaigners need to keep in mind: First, volunteering on campaigns for kids is not as complicated as it may seem. The first big step is developing a message that the public responds to, and then asking people to join in.

Second, campaigning for kids can be quite satisfying. Says Voss, "Change your strategy from that of a beggar who plays on sympathy to a power broker who plays the political game effectively. We must create a climate where it is politically advantageous to do good things for children."

Filling the Bucket
Rhonda Effron, a former dental hygienist and current stay-at-home mom, sees a picture broader than volunteering. "My goal is a cultural shift," Effron says. "I want to see adults putting kids' needs over their own needs."

 

Once Effron became a parent, she joined a local women's group in order to channel her desire to volunteer and her newfound interest in children and parenting. This early volunteer effort began a chain reaction. After listening to Jack Levine, the Executive Director of the Florida Center for Children and Youth, Effron was drawn to the "broader perspective" of the Florida Children's Campaign.

Effron organizes Celebrate the Family, an Orlando event which features fun and educational attractions from over 40 area nonprofit organizations. The event brings in more than 20,000 people and draws attention to the Florida's Children's Campaign, and the status of children in the state. The success of the event has been a lesson to her: "It clicked in me that if you have a passion, you can draw people into it," Effron says.

A drop in the bucket? Maybe. But proof that every one counts.


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