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Tax Policy, Budget Cuts Pose Health Risk to Kansas Children

By Amanda Gress
Director of Government Relations

Kansas policymakers’ refusal to revisit deep income tax cuts has once again harmed the health of Kansas children. In May, Governor Brownback announced a 4% reduction in reimbursement rates for KanCare, the state’s managed-care Medicaid program. These choices will ultimately make it more difficult for Kansas children covered by KanCare to go to the doctor and grow up healthy.

One in three Kansas children is covered by KanCare, and weakening the program jeopardizes the well-being of the 230,000 children who depend on it for medical coverage. Further reducing provider reimbursement may dissuade medical providers from serving patients with KanCare insurance. This may make it more difficult or even impossible for children insured by KanCare to find a doctor or a dentist, even as new federal guidelines direct states to ensure adequate provider networks for managed-care Medicaid programs.

These budget cuts could not come at a worse time for young Kansans. For the second year in a row Kansas restricted eligibility for food assistance and cash assistance, essential services that help families afford the basics children need to grow up healthy. Budget pressures have forced schools and local governments to cut back on school nurses and public health services. Administrative problems like glitches in the state’s new automated eligibility system and a backlog of applications plague the state’s KanCare program.

The decision to reduce reimbursement carries significant fiscal consequences. As a result of last month’s cut, Kansas will lose approximately $72 million in federal funds. The administration also cut $378,000 from the state’s safety net clinics, which fill gaps in the KanCare provider network and provide medical care to the uninsured.

Instead of weakening health care coverage for hundreds of thousands of Kansas children, Kansas policymakers could follow the lead of thirty-one other states and expand Medicaid. KanCare expansion would be a significant step forward in reaching uninsured Kansas children, who are more likely to be insured if their parents are insured. It would also grow businesses, support rural hospitals, and cover 150,000 Kansans who fall into the coverage gap. To date, Kansas’s refusal to consider KanCare expansion has cost the state more than $1.3 billion dollars in federal funds. Additional resources would help address KanCare’s existing challenges while generating revenue and budget savings, as it has in other states.

Kansas cannot continue to sacrifice the health of our children for an unsustainable tax policy. Building a strong health care system is a critical investment in our state’s future. Ensuring our youngest Kansans receive medical care prepares them to excel in school, grow up healthy, and succeed in the workforce. Weakening KanCare is a temporary budget band-aid that harms an entire generation of Kansas children.

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No regrets.

By Shannon Cotsoradis
KAC President & CEO

 

Few tasks are quite as daunting as writing a parting blog after nearly two decades at an organization. But on a recent visit to an early learning center in Seattle, I found my inspiration in a quote on the back of a bookmark that was a gift from one of the center’s children. The quote from Angela Schwindt read, “While we try to teach children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

While humbling things have been said in recent weeks about the legacy I am leaving for Kansas children, the reality is the children of Kansas have given me a priceless gift by allowing me to speak on their behalf. I have learned many important life lessons in this role that I will always carry with me. So, as I depart, I want to share my three most important lessons – underscored by the bitter battle to save the Children’s Initiatives Fund this legislative session – with my colleagues in the advocacy community and the friends of Kansas Action for Children.

First, speak the truth. When policy decisions hurt the most vulnerable among us we can’t simply stand idly by. As advocates, we have a responsibility to stand up and clearly speak to the consequences. Say it repeatedly to anyone who will listen. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming someone else will do it. They won’t. And while I wish I could say don’t worry about retaliation, I can’t. Do it anyway.

Second, being respected is a lot more important than being popular. I can look back at every choice I made, many of which were unpopular, and rest assured that I did the best I could for Kansas kids. I don’t think every choice was the right one. I learned from my mistakes. And, at the end of the day, I believe many of the people who didn’t like me still respected my work. I can live with that.

Lastly, always put the mission of the organization first. When faced with the most difficult decisions, I focused on just one thing: the mission of the organization. I worked hard not to let the political or personal consequences creep into my decision making. I committed to being the nonpartisan voice for hundreds of thousands of children who otherwise would be without a voice in the process. I woke up every morning understanding the commitment I made and stakes for Kansas children and their families.

The work kept me awake many nights, but because I lived these lessons every day I am leaving Kansas Action for Children with no regrets and with a better understanding of what life is all about.
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GUEST BLOG: Preschool funding

By John Schmader
Retired brigadier general with the U.S. Army

As a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, I know well about investments in our nation’s security. I think Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget jeopardizes one of the most critical investments for our state and country’s future: early childhood education.

In Kansas, seven out of 10 young adults ages 17 to 24 are not eligible to serve in the military. Poor education — failing to graduate from high school — is a leading disqualifier.

Research highlighted by the national security organization Mission: Readiness demonstrates that high-quality early education is a proven way to address academic underachievement. The governor’s budget, however, would dissolve funding dedicated to early childhood programs.

Private preschool in Kansas costs nearly $8,000 a year. This is more than many families can afford at a time when nearly 60 percent of Kansas 3- and 4-year-olds are not attending preschool, which is below the national average.

I strongly urge the state Legislature to reject the governor’s budget recommendation. We must ensure early childhood funding remains intact, giving children a greater chance to be successful in life and the opportunity to serve their nation in uniform, should they so choose.

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GUEST BLOG: Early education a national security issue

By William A. “Art” Bloomer
Retired brigadier general with the U.S. Marine Corps

The military is my life. For 31 years I served active duty in the Marines and have since continued to support our country’s national defense. Over the course of my career, I have flown more than 300 combat missions and participated in the operation to evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War, as well as commanding hundreds of honorable Marines.

It may be surprising to learn that, given my history, today I find one of the greatest threats to our security to be a lack of investment in our children in their early years. Quality early childhood education in Kansas is under siege, and it is imperative we fight for it.

I have no doubt that many of you are wondering why a retired general is speaking out about quality early learning. But poor education – failing to graduate from high school – is one of the leading disqualifiers for military service.

In Kansas, 14 percent of high school students fail to graduate on time, making it difficult to join the military without a high school diploma. Even among Kansas young adults who do finish high school, 21 percent of those seeking to enlist cannot score highly enough on the military’s exam for math, literacy and problem-solving to join.

These problems are rooted in the earliest years of life. Research shows that quality early childhood education acts as the foundation for math and literacy, as well as developing social skills that enable children to work well with others and function as part of a team.

A study highlighted by the Mission: Readiness military leaders group says that by age 3, a child’s brain has reached 85 percent of its adult weight and as early as 9 months old, learning gaps begin to distinguish between advantaged and disadvantaged children, with disadvantaged children starting kindergarten as much as a year and a half behind their peers. Many of these children never catch up, increasing their risk of dropping out of high school and lessening their chances of serving in the military, should they so choose.

Unfortunately, Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed a budget that would eliminate Kansas’ primary infrastructure for early childhood education. The budget would dismantle the Children’s Initiatives Fund, which was dedicated years ago when lawmakers committed to children and the state’s future by promising tobacco settlement funds to the expansion and improvement of quality early learning. As a result, we are on the cusp of losing one of the most valuable resources for ensuring children enter school ready to learn.

To enroll a child in high-quality private preschool costs nearly $8,000 a year, or 20 percent of the income of a moderate salary-level Kansas family. This is far more than many families can afford, and research already shows that nearly 60 percent of Kansas 3- and 4-year-olds are not attending preschool at all.

The responsibility of safeguarding the futures of Kansas youth now rests on the shoulders of the Legislature. I strongly urge it to reject the budget proposal to dismantle the Children’s Initiatives Fund.

The fund not only increases children’s educational success, but also strengthens the future security of our nation.

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That’s a wrap: KAC staffers look back on their favorite gifts

With 2014 wrapping up, the KAC team would like to end the year by spreading some holiday cheer. This is the time of year for giving and making memories: whether it’s giving your child their favorite game, taking a long awaited family trip or remembering that time your cousin ate a little too much pie. Here, we share our favorite gifts we’ve ever given and/or received.

Christmas 2008 019Lauren Beatty, communications director: The greatest gift I ever received was a cake. Sounds weird but it’s true. After I graduated from college, I moved by myself to central Illinois to take a job at a newspaper. It was the first time I had ever lived away from my friends and family. I missed everyone like crazy. When my birthday came around in January, my best friend Sarah decided to come for a visit. She wanted to bring me a birthday cake but that meant she would be saddled with a very delicate carry-on. Two plane changes and countless security clearances later, the cake – and Sarah – arrived in tact. The cake sat on her lap the whole time. Her thoughtfulness was so sweet. So was the cake. The greatest gift I ever gave went to my brother. Zack was obsessed with ramen noodles, and when he was in college they were practically the only thing he ever ate. I found a cookbook at a bookstore called “101 Things to Do with Ramen Noodles,” which I thought was pretty cool all on its own. But then I had a stroke of genius. What if I gave him the cookbook… and 101 packets of ramen? And so the greatest shopping trip of my life began. I had to go to three grocery stores, where I cleaned out their entire stocks of the $.15 soup. Then I had to find a gift bag big enough to handle them. And then I had to haul it to my parents’ house. The look on his face when he opened the bag was priceless. And he had enough ramen to last quite a while.

skateChristie Appelhanz, vice president of public affairs: My favorite gift I’ve ever received was when my aunt dropped off a wrapped present that I jingled for two weeks before Christmas. I shook that box every morning before I headed off to second grade. When I finally opened it up, I found pink and white pom-poms with a tiny bell to decorate my skates! My favorite gift I’ve given was when I told my husband we were going to brunch in Lawrence but instead drove him to the airport for a weekend trip to Nashville. He had no idea his fully packed suitcase was hidden in the trunk. It turned out to be our last trip before kids arrived, and that weekend of listening to live music ranks as one of our best times together.

April Holman, executive director of the Partnership for Early Success: Favorite gift I have received – talk about a loaded question! As the mother of four beautiful, creative children I don’t have just one favorite gift – I love all of the handmade ornaments and decorations I have received from them over the years. Favorite gift I have given – when my husband and I were first married we tried to start a new tradition of giving a small, anonymous gift to one of our family or friends each year. We chose his grandmother as the first recipient because we weren’t sure how many more Christmases we would have with her. We ordered a box of cookies and treats to be delivered to her and signed the card “from your friend, Howard Bell” hoping to create a fun mystery with the “Bell” harkening to Christmas. We didn’t plan for the beginnings of dementia to have taken hold of grandma, who was pretty sure she remembered an old admirer named Howard Bell. It seemed creepy that grandma’s admirer would give a random gift to someone else the next year so that was the end of our short-lived tradition. However, with all of the fun we had scheming that year I wouldn’t be surprised if good old Howard Bell makes a comeback one day.

Lisa Owen, office manager: I have to say my greatest gifts, my children, all arrived on or very near a holiday. Michael was born on Dec. 24, 1996, two days after our second wedding anniversary, so I call him my best anniversary present ever; and Amy was born on May 12, 1983, four days after Mother’s Day, so I call her the best Mother’s Day the best Mother’s Day present ever!

Janelle Brazington, vice president of administration: The best gift I’ve ever received is a poem about how my home is the most welcoming place. It was written by my oldest daughter and burned into a handmade wooden plaque by my son. The plaque hangs in my living room as a reminder of how home is truly where my heart is.

Rochelle Adams, operations specialist: The greatest gift that I was so excited about getting when I was about 8 or 9 years old was a purple boom box with Madonna and Def Leppard tapes that I played over and over. But the greatest non-material gift was my mother and mother-in-law providing child care for my children. I can’t think of any better gift than that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHilary Gee, director of health policy: At the end of my internship with Plan Cameroon, I received a beautiful piece of art from my co-workers. But even better than the picture – which is made of local wood and butterfly wings – was the way it was presented. My co-workers planned a going-away dinner at a local hotel and each spoke about our time together before giving me the picture. It was very touching, and the picture is now in my office at KAC. The best gift I’ve given was a surprise trip to visit a friend. Shortly after my friend Katie got engaged, my friends and I secretly planned a bachelorette weekend in Boston; everyone else lived pretty close to Boston, but I had flown out from Kansas City. When we jumped out to surprise her, she was really shocked to see me!

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Looking back on our school days

Summer’s coming to an end, and that means kids all over Kansas soon will be heading back to school (Parents rejoice!). During a recent meeting, KAC staffers started reminiscing about our younger days and decided to share our most adorable (and in some cases, embarrassing) photos and memories from our school days. Enjoy!

Christie Appelhanz, vice president for public affairs
I pulled out my front tooth the night before third grade pictures. My mother was horrified, but I thought I never looked better. I picked this picture for two reasons: 1. I still remember how I loved my red and white sailor culottes outfit. 2. This year my daughter Kate enters third grade, a crucial educational milestone where students make the switch from learning to read to reading to learn.


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Hilary Gee, director of health policy
This is my school picture from Toddlers. I was 2 and a half. I called my teacher (Mrs. McDonald) Donal. There were six 2-year-olds in my class who would follow her around the school, so the class was described as Mrs. McD and her ducklings.


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Lisa Owen, office manager
Awkward teenage years, approximately 15 years old. I had only been back in the United States about a year and my best friend from school in Germany got to travel up from Fort Campbell, Ky., by Greyhound bus to visit me. We were taking her back to bus station when these were taken—me in the orange stripes and Leigh in purple. My grandma Jennie is in the background—probably wondering what the heck was wrong with us as we were laughing like maniacs at something!


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Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO
According to my mother, this photo captures the essence of who I was as a young child. “A quiet, introspective little lady that didn’t like to be at the forefront of anything.” Not sure what happened that transformed that little girl into a doggedly persistent advocate for children and families. Few people would describe me as quiet these days!


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Rochelle Adams, operations specialist/executive assistant
This is a picture of me during the time I was in a church preschool. What a great age for kids to start learning all aspects of life. I cracked my first egg to make a cake in this class. Life was all about having fun in the sun and taking care of my animals during this age.


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Lauren Beatty, communications director
Oh, hello there. I’m just sitting in this director’s chair, minding my own beeswax. What? These glasses? Yeah, I just told mom to get me the biggest ones at the Wal-Mart optical shop. Like, the biggest. See ya in chem class. (Wow. This photo brings back searing memories of what an awkward, nerdy kid I was. I mean, I’m still awkward and nerdy but now I have coping mechanisms. Namely, beer.)


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April Holman, executive director of the Kansas Coalition for School Readiness
My family lived in Uitenhage, South Africa, when I was 7 years old and this picture was taken. School there was much more regimented than my elementary school in Michigan, but I learned a lot of really different and fun things like how to knit and basic words in Afrikaans and Xhosa. I think I was sunburned the entire time we lived in South Africa because we spent every weekend at the beach or the pool.


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Janelle Brazington, vice president for administration
I was 8 years old and in second grade when this picture was taken. I started at a new school with new teachers and classmates. Being new didn’t stop me from standing up to a bully in defense of my friend. I was incensed at the indignity and injustice and found my passion in defending the vulnerable and at-risk—the beginning of my life as an advocate.


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Honoring long-time board member Becky Holmquist

10437024_10152941044979778_5532672852605866514_nLong-time KAC board member Becky Holmquist is bringing her service as a board member with Kansas Action for Children to a close. Last Friday, she joined us for the last time. Because we have been privileged to have Becky as a member of the board for more than 16 years, we would like to honor her service and her dedication to Kansas children.

We asked other members of the board to share a single word that captures Becky and her dedication to KAC. Here’s what they had to say:

Visionary
Welcoming
Dedicated
Committed
Sensible
Nice
Caring
Available
Respect
Prepared
Insightful
Granite
Approachable

And because many of our board members just couldn’t contain their praise to just one word, here are some longer tributes to Becky:

From the beginning of my board tenure, Becky always went out of her way to take time to get to know me, which I appreciate. She is a kind and welcoming lady who has a real passion for making Kansas a better place for children.

–Adrienne Olejnik

She gives sound advice when we needed it, and she is super nice.

–Rhonda K. Lewis

Becky’s commitment and dedication to KAC has been demonstrated by her availability. When asked to do something, Becky will more likely than not say YES. Over the years, she has served on committees, pitched in to give committee reports, done last minute media interviews (because I chickened out), made KAC an integral part of her life and represented KAC and Kansas children well.

–Sarah Mays

Becky was the first board member that welcomed me when I came to my first meeting. She was not only friendly and welcoming, respectful as she included me in discussions and meeting business. She made sure that I met other members and “got to know me” as a colleague. Throughout the meeting (and subsequent meetings), she always showed this respect to her fellow board members, staff and guests. However, I think her true respect showed through her advocacy work on behalf of the kids of Kansas and their families – no matter the issue. I hope that I can follow Becky’s lead and continue the respectful advocacy for Kansas kids and families.

–Angie Knackstedt

Becky was always professional in presenting her materials to the board and staff.

–Terrie Huntington

Becky has been a great leader and advocate for us all. She will be missed. I have learned a lot from her and appreciate her honest and true nature to serve others and lead by example.

–Tina DeLaRosa

I met Becky at a Kansans Connect for Kids meeting in the mid-late ’90s. I didn’t know anyone there but she seemed approachable and we ended up sitting together and talking throughout the meeting. A few years later I joined the KAC board and we were reacquainted there. I have always found Becky to be approachable….to talk about family…..to engage with at board meetings….to serve the board. She has been a great board member and will be missed!

–Susie Fetsch

Thank you, Becky, for everything you have given to our organization and our state’s children.

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Leadership training provides skills to tackle the tough challenges

By Christie Appelhanz
Vice President for Public Affairs

That Seth Godin quote about leadership sums it up for me: “How was your day? If your answer was ‘fine,’ then I don’t think you were leading.”

I’m lucky enough to have figured out a way to get paid to do something that really matters. But leadership — at any level of any non-profit organization out there — isn’t without its share of big, fat, hairy and exhausting challenges.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way. Study after study points to a leadership crisis in the non-profit sector, with roughly 75 percent of executive directors/CEOs reporting that they plan to leave their jobs within the next five years.

Yikes! Will the next generation of child advocacy leaders be ready to take over? The folks at the Annie E. Casey Foundation aren’t the type to sit around wondering, especially when so much hangs in the balance. They created the Leadership Institute for State-Based Advocates, and I managed to make my way into the inaugural class.

Unlike other leadership development programs that provide technical skills in finance and management, this intense 18-month training offered a chance to address real-time leadership challenges in the context of what’s happening at the moment.

It came in handy as my environment was changing almost as quickly as my role throughout the course of the program. The Kansas Legislature experienced 43 percent turnover that came with the loss of key children’s champions. I shifted my focus from early education to health, taking over leadership of the Kansas Dental Project, where I had to learn the difference between pulpectomy and a pulpotomy — as well as how to guide a coalition of some particularly strange bedfellows.

Thanks to the Casey Foundation, I now have all the answers and know exactly what to do whenever faced with a complex problem. Just kidding! I gained something even more valuable from the program:

  • A network of 13 brilliant child advocates working on diverse issues across the nation who are a phone call away.
  • A keen understanding that you can’t go wrong being results-based and data-driven.
  • A broader vision for Kansas Action for Children’s work and a sense of how to get there.

I already had passion and commitment for improving child well-being in Kansas. But making it through days that are anything but fine is a whole lot easier with my new leadership skills and community of peers to cheer me on.

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Remembering Larry J. Kane, 1948-2013

Kansas Action for Children had the pleasure of working with Larry J. Kane for 11 years. On March 24, KAC and Larry’s friends and family came together to remember him. We also unveiled a memorial art piece that hangs in KAC’s conference room.

MusicPrint_LK

I had the privilege of working closely with Larry Kane from his first day of service as a board member at Kansas Action for Children. During his 11 years of service, Larry served two terms as the organization’s treasurer and one term as the chairman of the board. As treasurer, Larry met with me monthly, combing through the organization’s financial statements, dutifully inquiring about anything he didn’t understand or that looked out of the ordinary.

photo 4We often reviewed financial statements over lunch in Lawrence, where Larry worked and lived. I looked forward to these lunches because Larry provided guidance not only around the organization’s financial management, but also around my development as a young professional. At some difficult moments in the organization’s history, Larry provided a great sounding board and a steady hand. As we remember Larry’s devoted service to Kansas children today, I am recalling three things about the man I admired:

photoLarry brought a deep commitment to his community and to the state’s children. In addition to his many years of service on the KAC board, Larry devoted his time to local charities like the United Way of Douglas County. During our lunches Larry often spoke fondly about his own children, recognizing that many children in our state are not as fortunate … and for those children he longed to make a difference. Larry was particularly passionate about young children, devoted to advocating for access to high-quality early care and education.

photo5Over the years, as I got to know Larry, I also came to realize that his passion for bluegrass music was a big part of him. Each year, Larry would make the trip to the Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield. In fact, over the years we organized KAC’s September board meeting around Larry’s trip, so he wouldn’t miss providing the treasurer’s report.

But perhaps the thing I remember most about Larry was the powerful sense of integrity you got from him the moment you met him, and his commitment to being a good steward of the organization’s resources. Larry always struck me as someone who tried to do the right thing every day and that was certainly always the case in his service to Kansas Action for Children.

photo 1It goes without saying that the world lost a good man when it lost Larry J. Kane. I am grateful, personally and professionally, to have known him. He made a difference for Kansas children.

–Shannon Cotsoradis, KAC president and CEO

Larry Kane left a quiet impression – yet he was a man with provocative insights about ideas and people. He was, indeed, a unique musical instrument tuned to the needs of children. We remember him for how his spirit brightened our board meetings, for how his ever-ready smile brought music in its own way. His eyes shared his truths and his concerns for Kansas’ children and the families to whom they belonged. He owned and shared the greater truth: These children of Kansas belong to all of us; we neglect them at our own future regret, peril and risk.

photo 2Larry is sorely missed by all of us, the longer we knew him, the more we miss him.

May his spirit light our ways as we advocate for children, the adults who will take our places tomorrow. May his values light our ways and encourage us in difficult times.

May child advocacy consume our days and may we remember Larry as we strive to honor his memory as we forge policies to protect and nurture the children of the great state of Kansas.

–Susan Garlinghouse, vice chair of resource development, KAC Board of Directors

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Saying a lot with a little

Six words may not seem like a lot, but they have the power to tell a tremendous tale. The “six-word story” began when Earnest Hemmingway was once dared to write a story in just six words. He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Since then, people have used the six-word story to express quick yet meaningful thoughts.

At KAC’s December Board of Directors meeting, we asked our board members to write their own six-word stories about why they advocate for children. Here is what they shared with us:

“Love of humanity, obligation of life.” – Marta Kennedy
“Can’t stand by and do nothing.” – Sarah Mays
“Motivate tomorrow’s leaders for future sustainability.” – Terrie Huntington
“Past is not the future, we are.” – Angie Knackstedt
“Poor children’s lost potential is tragic.” – Sue Evans
“My kids aren’t the only ones.” – Susan Fetsch
“Hungry yesterday, food today, healthy tomorrow.” – Susan Garlinghouse
“All children need opportunities to succeed.” – Judy Frick
“Constant improvement will make lives better.” – Adrienne Olejnik
“Engage, uplift, change, renew, share, hope.” – Pat Anderson
“What if my kids were hungry?” – Ximena Garcia

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