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Ventura County Perspective

Along With the Dollars, Competition

New funding could make every day kids' day--if the adults do their part.

May 30, 1999|BEVERLY KELLEY | Beverly Kelley hosts "Local Talk" on KCLU-FM (88.3) at 7 p.m Mondays. She teaches in the communication department at Cal Lutheran University. Praeger has released her book, "Reelpolitik: Political Ideologies in '30s and '40s Films." Address e-mail to

The Littleton thunderhead seems to have yielded a twofold silver lining: 1) A visceral realization that nothing is more precious than our own progeny and 2) uncharacteristic silence on the part of our politicians (albeit momentary) properly humbled by an inability to prevent a Columbine-type frightmare from happening again.

Gov. Gray Davis needn't have moistened a slender finger to test the political winds in recent four weeks. Nearly bowled over by "it-could-happen-here" squalls statewide, he line-itemed $100 million for school safety. If you are wondering, "What's a child's life worth, anyway?" you are not alone.

Here in Ventura County, offspring are not only our future (two out of three new county residents arrive via the stork) their needs continue to remain a top priority.

Of the 1,200 not-for-profits in Ventura County, approximately 800 busy themselves with families. The problem: The same community organizations chase after the same community check writers. The Ventura County Community Foundation concludes that although we lead the region in household wealth and charitable giving, there is insufficient endowment to underwrite local demand.

Annual contributions to (and allocations from) United Way have grown anorexic. Organizations forced to beg for bucks are finding that busy philanthropists haven't got space on their calendars for one more not-so-silent auction or one more benefit "chicken again?" banquet.

Foundations have tried to stretch the booty by giving preferential treatment to joint requests. In February, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Committee secured a $630,000 collaborative award to reduce births in Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Kristina Brooks of K&M Enterprises: Grant Writing and Research, foresaw a multitude of meaty block grants coming down the pike. The first, a federal juvenile accountability incentive award, will help pay for juvenile drug court and treatment services at both ends of the county.

Ventura County kids could reap a spectacular windfall once tobacco lawsuit settlement money ($9.3 million per year) as well as Proposition 10 cigarette taxes ($10 million per year) pulse through the pipeline. This level of loot might have set off a frenzied food fight among the fund-raising famished had not the Commission for Children, Families and the Community been established by ordinance in 1996 to advise the Board of Supervisors.

In an effort to peacefully coexist and gather all interested parties around the same mahogany table, the commission consists of an executive policy cabinet (32 members divided equally among county agencies, cities, schools districts and community-based organizations) and the council of councils (an attempt at inclusiveness welcoming all comers to work on four standing committees). To facilitate its work as a neutral convener and grant administrator, the commission is funded by member institutions.

Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Lacey's fingerprints can be found all over the commission's mission statement. Language such as "collaboration," "cooperation" and "private-public partnerships" goes all the way back to Lacey's master's thesis, when she first detected the synergy that occurs when diverse agencies band together. (Her "let's-all-get-along" philosophy fell considerably short when faced with the jumble of federal licensing and certification requirements that eventually derailed the county's mental health and social service merger.)

Yet there is another obstacle confronting the commission. Without an unswerving commitment to children overriding territorial conflicts and survivalist mentalities, Supervisor Kathy Long, who heads the executive policy cabinet, will be taking on the thankless job of trying to herd cats. A bunch of skinny political cats, at that.

Look at what happened with Littleton. Every tom-with-an-agenda used the massacre to shore up support for causes from the war in Kosovo to gay rights. Even Long is not above teasing out a thought concerning the tragedy, namely that the boys in blue arrived with too little, too late. Her faith squarely planted in the prevention model, Long would have acted earlier, arming a different sort of SWAT team. Hers, like our commission, would brandish the weapons found in school-linked services, youth mentoring and violence prevention.

At about this time every year (between Mother's and Father's days) youngsters pop the inevitable question, "So when do we celebrate kids?" If the folks on the commission can keep their eyes on the prize, every day in Ventura County will be Children's Day.

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