About a year ago, we asked Charlie Rowten if she would be interested in joining a group of women dedicated to making our community a better place through Lubbock Area United Way. She didn’t hesitate, but eagerly asked, “Can we get started this week?”
Unfortunately, it takes more than a few days to organize and coordinate a group of more than 500 women. But this year that group, called Women United, officially launched and began researching a signature issue for the group to focus on.
“As we learned about the problems facing our community, child abuse was the one that totally touched my heart,” said Rowten
It is no secret that child abuse and neglect is a big issue here on the South Plains. In 2016 there were 1,033 confirmed victims of abuse and neglect in Lubbock County. That is an average of three children every day, a number that was unacceptable to the members of Women United. They decided to take on this issue and challenge our community and government to do a better job of protecting our children.
Lubbock County has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the state yet frequently receives little to no funding for proven, effective prevention programs.
Earlier this year the group learned that child abuse prevention funding was at risk of being cut during the legislative session and they knew they needed to act now.
“If I could have any impact by going to Austin and getting in front of those legislators I wanted to be part of it,” said Rowten. “These funds are so important to making a difference in our community. Why wait until the child gets abused? Let’s try to stop it before it happens.”
On March 1st a group of ten women made the trip from Lubbock to Austin. They spent the day walking up and down the State Capitol corridors talking to legislators about the importance of prevention funding to the Lubbock community.
Each legislator was presented with a jar filled with blue beads and two white beads. Each blue bead represented a confirmed victim of abuse or neglect in 2015. The white beads represented the two children who died from abuse that year.
In a year with state revenues decreased and budget cuts looming over the Capitol the women knew they had their work cut out for them. The good news, as the session ended, is that prevention funding to our area was not eliminated and steps are being taken to renew the existing 2-year contract for our United Way Community Partner the Parenting Cottage, who provide the majority of prevention programs in our area. That means at least 800+ children in Lubbock County can be protected from abuse and neglect in the coming 2 years.
While the session may have ended, the work of Women United is just getting started.
Advocacy at the state and local level is not the only strategy the women are using to approach this complex issue. Later this summer, Women United will launch a mentoring program that matchs members with participants from Catholic Charities’ Parent Empowerment Program, a United Way funded program. Strengthening families by helping single moms find their way out poverty is just one more way the women feel they can protect children.
“If they ask us to go to Austin again, I will be there. But what I am most excited about is being able to work hands on with women in our community as part of a mentoring program we’re launching,” Rowten said. “To be able to work with these women and help them accomplish their dreams is going to be incredible.”
If you are interested in joining a group of women passionate about the safety and welfare of the children of West Texas, click here for more information.
“I really believe that I can make a difference,” said Rowten. “And I as a group of strong women I know we can make a huge difference.”