Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County transforms children.
It also plays a part in tackling one of the greatest obstacles to state progress, generational poverty.
Its mission, matching adult volunteers to children who need their influence, is without controversy. No caring Alabamian would deprive children of the mentoring the program provides, generally to those in low-income homes or broken families. Even a judgmental political climate that increasingly blames the poor for their struggles does not go so far as to blame the children of the poor.
Nor do rational Alabamians doubt the devastating effects of generational poverty. Even those who haughtily attribute poverty to cultural deficiencies recognize the need to break the cycle. Those in poverty cost everyone else money, through Medicaid expenses and food stamps and other safety-net programs. Even people devoid of compassion recognize that pulling children out of poverty benefits a state with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.
Despite a mission that almost all Alabamians applaud, Big Brothers Big Sisters lost its state funding in 2011. It was one of many cuts made by the state in an effort to keep its property taxes the lowest in the nation and its overall taxes the second lowest in the nation.
Some would argue that’s as it should be. Why should Alabama residents have to pay taxes to support a program they may or may not support? That’s the job of private charities.
The short answer is that private charities cannot take up the slack. A combination of less generous donations and increasing need have left organizations like Big Brothers woefully short of the resources they need to perform a task that benefits not only children but the state.
This is not a new problem. Even with state and federal tax dollars funding Medicaid, the poor struggle to find doctors who will provide care at low reimbursement levels. The poor line up at local food banks, but many struggle with hunger. Drops in federal funding of Pell grants have not triggered an increase in privately funded scholarships.
The claim that charitable giving will rise to meet the needs of the disadvantaged may have been true a generation ago, but today it is a myth.
Those who work at organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morgan County see the desperate need of their clients. They work crazy hours at minimal pay, donating much of their time. They beg for contributions to help the many children who, without intervention, are doomed to the poverty that overwhelms their parents.
Alabama need not be a compassionate state to conclude it should provide its impoverished children with a ladder out of generational poverty. If our state is to enjoy a future marked by progress rather than poverty, it needs to give its children a chance.