Vote Kids informs politicians, public about children's issues


Carmen Dawn Gladding is about to find out "who's for kids, and who's just kidding" in Howard County.

Ms. Gladding is coordinator for the new Howard County arm of Vote Kids '94, a statewide nonpartisan educational campaign launched May 17 to inform the public and political candidates about issues related to children.

"The four main issues are education, health, economic well-being and safety," she said. "These are the big areas."

The county group is still in the developmental stage and an ZTC organizational meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at the central library in Columbia. After the meeting, the group will set specific strategies for Howard County, Ms. Gladding said.

Ms. Gladding, a 22-year-old Cooksville resident, said volunteers from her organization will be at a booth at Lake Kittamaqundi tomorrow to distribute literature about the group. Later in the campaign, volunteers will conduct voter registration drives and attend political forums to ask candidates what their plans are for children.

Volunteers will also distribute postcards so voters can find out their gubernatorial and local candidates' platforms on children's issues.

Ms. Gladding, who already had an interest in advocacy work, met Vote Kids' creator Amy Blank last month and expressed interest in the group. Now Ms. Gladding is a volunteer.

Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., a statewide public policy group, launched Vote Kids '94. So far, Vote Kids '94 has more than 1,000 volunteers working in Baltimore, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, as well as in Baltimore City.

L The group's slogan: "Who's for kids and who's just kidding."

Vote Kids '94 plans to build a coalition of volunteers and voters who can ask their legislators for support in matters regarding children, said Ms. Blank, who is also campaign manager for Vote Kids '94.

"I have never seen this kind of outpour of interest and I think the truth of the matter is that it's the next movement," Ms. Blank said. "We've had the environmental movement . . . we've had the women's movement and we've seen monumental change.

"I think now people are focusing on children, and what Vote Kids '94 hopefully will be is the seed to a national movement for children."

Last month, Vote Kids '94 members met with most of the state's gubernatorial candidates, which provided for good exchanges of ideas, Ms. Blank said.

One candidate they met with was Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.

"He really thinks the group is terrific," said Ann Beegle, Mr. Glendening's deputy press secretary.

Ms. Gladding said, "I think [the candidates will] take the concerns seriously, and I think that's all part of building this group of volunteers and people who are concerned about children,"

The organization uses data collected in the annual Kids Count Factbook, which profiles the condition of children throughout Maryland.

"Maryland is the fifth wealthiest state in the entire country, but we're ranked 32nd" in terms of taking care of children, Ms. Blank said. "And we have the highest-educated work force in the entire country."

"One in every five children in Maryland is on a free or reduced [price] lunch," said Ms. Blank, a longtime lobbyist. "We're looking at 800 children that will never live past their first birthday; we're looking at 10,000 children that are abused and neglected every single year, and those are the only ones that are indicated."

Although Howard County ranks near the top of the state on most issues regarding children, it is near the bottom on the percentage of paying child-support cases and child screening for lead poisoning, according to Kids Count, a statewide partnership of various child advocacy groups.

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