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4/20/2012 9:45:00 AM
Childhood poverty: students called to respond
Catholic News Service photo
Two young girls receive food at an outdoor soup kitchen in Washington in late January. During tough economic times, children bear some of the toughest burdens because of increased family stress and cuts in programs that help kids thrive, according to an annual study of child well-being.
Catholic News Service photo
Two young girls receive food at an outdoor soup kitchen in Washington in late January. During tough economic times, children bear some of the toughest burdens because of increased family stress and cuts in programs that help kids thrive, according to an annual study of child well-being.

MILWAUKIE — Childhood poverty is on the rise, and one in five children lives at or below the federal line.

"The numbers are astounding, and children are in need of help now more than ever," says an open letter written by students at La Salle Prep in Milwaukie.

The teens at the Catholic school are saying they feel called to respond to the crisis and so are studying the issue. For a year-long school-wide theme, the question at hand is, “Can we break the cycle of childhood poverty?”  

Student activities, curriculum, and school programming get at the details.

At nearby Lot Whitcomb School, almost 90 percent of students live at or below the federal poverty level. Lot Whitcomb’s students need food, mentoring, tutoring and role models.

Backpack Buddies, a program that provides 50 children with food every Friday so they can make it through the weekend, has aided many families. LaSalle provides Lot Whitcomb with around 40 high school students to be mentors for an hour each week. Around the holidays, La Salle students gather money and sponsor a family to provide gifts. Recently, La Salle provided Lot Whitcomb with hundreds of used books for the students to keep.   

In addition to charity, La Salle students are learning to change systems. Michael Doran, a social studies teacher, asks his freshmen in World History, “Why is your lifestyle similar to or different from other teens around the world?”  The question gets students thinking about why the divide exists and what can be done to end it.  

Last month, students entered small group discussions on the topic of childhood poverty, a hunger banquet to simulate the real-life division of socio-economic classes, an assembly with speaker Lynda Coates, who grew up in poverty, a documentary on childhood poverty, and a simple lunch of rice and beans from which proceeds were donated to a nonprofit that fights childhood poverty.  

Questions being posed include, “Whose responsibility is it to break the cycle of childhood poverty?” and “What is our responsibility as Lasallians?”  

"By responding to these questions, our hope is that students will feel inspired to create change and will be empowered end the cycle of childhood poverty," said the student letter.

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