Each year, Advocates for Children of New Jersey issues the New Jersey Kids Count report, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, detailing the statistics behind how well we are caring for our children and families in New Jersey. Locally, Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties showed small improvements in the areas of children’s health and education, but the report clearly indicated that there is still much to be done to strengthen our communities and give children and families hope for a better future.

Consider:

• Cape May County placed last in the state for safety and well-being, with the highest juvenile arrest rate and percentage of idle teens.

• Atlantic County has the highest rent burden in the state, with 62 percent of Atlantic County households spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

• Cumberland County has the lowest graduation rate in the state and is tied for the highest rate of students who were chronically absent, missing at least 10 percent of enrolled school days.

Each of these stats contributes to an overwhelming issue affecting children and families throughout the region: poverty. In southern New Jersey, more than 61,000 children face poverty every day. It affects everything from food security to educational opportunities, and limits their success before they even have a chance to try. It is the most pressing issue of our time and our region … especially for our children.

Kevin’s story is just one example. At home, it was difficult, and resources were limited. Both parents worked hard, but it was never enough to make ends meet. Often, he went hungry so there was enough food for his siblings. School was challenging and just produced more anxiety than it seemed worth; he considered dropping out and getting a job so he could help pay bills. Who would notice, he thought.

With support from United Way, the Boys and Girls Club changed Kevin’s path. He connected with a mentor and started realizing his potential. He found solace in the after-school activities they offered and his confidence grew. His grades slowly improved. Today, he is on track to achieve his goal of attending college. He has won awards for his achievements, and children at the club look up to him.

Every day, there are thousands of youth whose futures hang in the balance of the action that we take as a community. Research shows that when young adults drop out of school or quit their job, their chances of living in poverty double. But through United Way, we combine the caring power of tens of thousands of donors, advocates and volunteers throughout our region who are committed to, and invested in, fighting poverty — one child, one adult and one family at a time.

While the nonprofit community is committed to alleviating the devastating effects of poverty, United Way is uniquely positioned to work to end poverty in our region. By rallying local communities and forging strong partnerships, developing integrated solutions and leveraging each person’s generosity to advance a holistic, two-generation approach, we can help more people break the cycle of poverty and thrive.

But we can’t do this work alone.

Together, we can live united against poverty by fighting for the success of every child and the stability of every family in our local communities. Join us. Learn more at UnitedforImpact.org.

Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, and Thomas J. Merighi Jr., owner of Merighi’s Savoy Inn, are co-chairs of the Atlantic-Cape May-Cumberland Campaign Cabinet of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

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