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Council Corner: Help children this holiday season

Being Dasher in the 23rd annual Festival of Lights parade was a humbling experience.

Up ahead, Rudolph glad-handed the crowd and hogged all the photo opportunities. And none of us — not even Rudolph — could deflect the crowd’s singular obsession with the old guy and his missus in the sleigh behind us.

So I used my opportunity as a member of the under-appreciated reindeer prancing and pawing dance team to check out the legions of children and adults lining the street.

There, in the sweet light of early evening, I saw magic: tots clinging to their moms and 5-year olds with eyes round with wonder. Kiddos held high so they could glimpse old St. Nick coming down the street. And when the grand illumination turned downtown into a sparkling sea of lights, even teenagers oohed and aahed.

It was a good reminder of the reasons we do these things: to seed childhood memories, support families, connect with each other.

The over-used but still true African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child. Here in our little corner of the world, community members take that to heart. We vote for school bonds, buy car wash tickets, coach soccer and volunteer in classrooms. We believe in investing in the next generation.

But despite our efforts and certainly our intentions, 26 percent of children in Jackson County live in poverty. What does that mean? For a family of four, that’s an annual income of $24,250 — about $2,000/month to provide food, clothing, heat and shelter. The poverty rate is even higher for children under the age of 5. At Ashland Emergency Food Bank, 25 percent of those receiving food each month are under the age of 18.

There are other grim markers, as well. In 2014, 845 children in Jackson County were victims of abuse and/or neglect. Each case represents enormous suffering and portends an ominous future. Without intervention, many of the children growing up in poverty or in dysfunctional families will repeat intergenerational patterns marked by struggle and abuse.

The good news is that our Jackson County community has created an array of organizations that are doing stellar work to support children and families. If you have an extra dollar or two in your pocket this holiday season, here are three nonprofits that deserve your support:

Family Nurturing Center — Located in Medford and serving both Jackson and Josephine counties, Family Nurturing Center (www.familynurturingcenter.org) provides intensive therapeutic services, including child care, home visits, mental health programs and respite services for families with children under the age of 6 who have experienced abuse and/or neglect. FNC’s mission is to keep children safe and to help families rebuild their lives so that they can raise healthy, thriving children.

This is life-changing work. Families served by FNC reduce risk factors that correlate with neglect and abuse. They develop skills and emotional capacity to nurture. Most importantly, 99% of FNC families have no further involvement with Child Welfare.

I sit on the FNC Board of Directors. If you would like to learn more or to visit the center, please email me at pam@council.ashland.or.us.

Modern Roots Foundation — Founded by irrepressible Ashland resident Dee Fretwell, Modern Roots (www.modernrootsfoundation.org) believes that children need music. The organization pays for lessons, instruments and music camp for children who qualify. Music education provides a plethora of benefits, including enhanced language skills, increased ability to focus and general self-confidence. As Plato says on the Modern Roots homepage: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

Ashland Schools Foundation — ASF (www.ashlandschoolsfoundation.org) has been supporting teachers and students in Ashland School District since 1989. The foundation funds an array of academic programs and special projects with particular focus on the gaps created by district budget cuts.

Schools matter. Ashland Schools Foundation is there to make sure that teachers have the resources they need so that children can learn. Your donation helps make that happen.

Thank you for a year marked by passionate debate, extraordinary generosity and the shared knowledge that we are all in this together. The happiest of holidays to you.

Pam Marsh is a member of the Ashland City Council.