Morgan County sees about 20 pregnancies in young people between the ages of 10 and 19 every year. For each of the last two years, the Middle School has had a pregnant student.
For Audrey Morris, who has been the Director at the Morgan County Starting Points Center since 1999, those statistics are outrageous. “Whenever I hear of 11-year-olds, who are pregnant, or children being abused, it makes me angry, and that’s why I’m still here,” Morris says. “People don’t understand how if you are abused as a child it impacts the rest of your life.”
Morris applied to the Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Family, for the original grant to fund the Morgan County Starting Points Center after someone told her it would be a more effective way to work on the issue of teen pregnancy prevention. At the time, Morris, a Morgan County native, had been working on the issue with the WVU Extension Service because the county had the third highest rate of teen pregnancy.
When the grant came through, Morris applied to be the director for the new center, which works with families from before children are born until they are 18, offering resources to families including parenting education and health and development services. A big part of the Center’s charge is preventing child abuse.
Last year, when funding for the centers was in jeopardy, Morris got involved with the Our Children Our Future Campaign and attended a Policy Symposium in Charleston. She got the word out to her Eastern Panhandle Community and helped make community connections to support the work of the OCOF policy initiative to fund the Children’s Resource Network and Starting Points Centers all over the state. It was a legislative victory in the spring of 2014.
Securing the funding for the foreseeable future is one of more than 20 policy proposals for work at this year’s Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops, where everyday West Virginians can sign up to get involved in helping create policy that will make a difference for young people in the state.
For Morris securing programs like Starting Points is important because they address issues specific to each community. The Centers have state funding and guidelines, but also the flexibility to address problems as they arise. A Soup Kitchen, for example, is a service provided by Morgan County Starting Points that may not be necessary at other Centers. “We are in the community,” Morris says. “How they [Starting Points Centers] provide for the community is decided in the community.”
The needs of her community have always been important to Morris.
She can’t understand why more people don’t get involved when faced with the statistics of poverty and abuse. It’s something she has passed on to her daughter, who served as an Americorps VISTA, and is going back to school in the fall to study human rights law.
“I want to make a difference. I don’t want to wait for someone from outside the community to come in and make a difference,” Morris says. “We need to start where we are and move forward.”
Morris will be sharing her experience as a luncheon panelist at the Eastern Regional Policy Workshop in Martinsburg on July 29. Policy issues on tap for the workshop in Martinsburg include: Medicaid Mental Health Therapy, Foster Kids Bill of Rights, Buy American, Erin’s Law: Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Tobacco Tax, Perinatal Oral Health Policies, and Substance Abuse Prevention Funding.