With three children, Jamie Gudiel knew the value of family resource services for the health and development of children, so she became a member of the board for the Family Resource Network in Monongalia County. While on the board, she was working two jobs. Her husband was working too.
But three jobs weren’t enough to keep the family with three children off of food stamps. Gudiel feels like legislators often think people just want to take advantage of the system, but in reality her story is more the norm for people relying on government assistance.
“There are real people, who are not just standing around asking people for a handout. I don’t want to be on food stamps. I don’t want to accept government assistance. I’m doing everything I can, but it’s not working,” Gudiel said.
So, when she was asked to speak about the need for an increase in minimum wage at the Our Children Our Future Policy Workshop in Bridgeport last year, she jumped at the chance. The workshop was one of several regional policy workshops where everyday West Virginians are invited to get involved in creating or changing state policy on issues that matter to them and that affect the welfare of young people in the state. Participants work in teams on the issues and get access to legislators, who can help. The issues addressed at these conferences often become part of the OCOF Campaign to end child poverty in West Virginia.
Gudiel spoke to the participants at the workshop about the importance of increasing the minimum wage. “Everything I had to say came from my experience, and it came from my heart,” Gudiel said. She talked to the audience of community activists, volunteers and legislators about her family’s struggle having three jobs and three children. She told them how hard it was to help her kids with their homework or have family time. “I was losing out a lot on being a mother and being a wife,” she said.
Her words moved the crowd, and Stephen Smith of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition and Lisa Wotring of theFamily Resource Networks asked her to be an active part of the minimum wage increase policy team.
“I really didn’t think I had a voice. I didn’t think I had anything to say,” Gudiel said. She is thankful for the encouragement from Smith and Wotring. “They showed me that I had a voice. It was mind blowing.”
She added her voice to the team working for an increase in minimum wage, and drawing attention to an issue that affects thousands of families in West Virginia. By March, it was law. Minimum wage will increase from $7.25 to $8 on January 1, 2015, and again to $8.75 in January 2016.
At this year’s Northern Regional Policy Workshop in Clarksburg, Gudiel will be talking about her experience getting involved with state government. It’s something she thinks everyone should do.
“I would like to see more regular people like me speak out at these forums because we’re the ones who are living in the struggle,” she said.
The Our Children Our Policy Workshops are organized by the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, and West Virginia Community Development Hub.