Wexford-Missaukee GSPC sponsors voter education event

By Brenda Brissette Mata

LAKE CITY - At a “Meet the Candidates” night in Lake City, more than 70 community members gathered at Missaukee County Park to meet 14 candidates for state office.

Sponsored by the Wexford-Missaukee Great Start Parent Coalition, the candidates were invited to share their thoughts and ideas about the importance of early childhood.

“We wanted face to face time with candidates to educate them about our issues and provide them with an opportunity to share their thoughts with voters,” said Rachel Rogers, parent liaison for the coalition.”

The event was held at a county park, just a few feet away from a playground so that families could bring their children to the event. The park includes a “Born Learning Trail” with 10 signs demonstrating activities that parents and children can do while they walk. The trail was built through a partnership between Great Start and the United Way.

“We invited everybody from state legislators right up to the candidates for governor,” Rogers said. While none of the gubernatorial candidates could make it, the group was happy to learn the vast majority of other candidates invited said they would attend.

Candidates or legislators who couldn’t attend were contacted by coalition members and asked to meet separately so that the groups concerns about early childhood could be shared.

Prior to the event, each candidate was mailed a questionnaire, a list of six questions. At the forum each candidate was given an opportunity to answer three of the six questions.

“Members from the parent coalition formed a communications committee and focused on the statistics from our counties and then created questions to reflect on those stats,” Rogers said.

“One candidate was surprised that 28 percent of our kids came to kindergarten without any kind of preschool experience,” Rogers said.

Many were also shocked to learn that in Wexford-Missaukee, one in five children live in poverty and more than 65 percent of households have both parents working, which creates a huge need for quality child care.

Several candidates also were surprised to learn that Wexford and Missaukee counties have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state.

Members of the audience were given the statistics, a list of candidate names and a pencil for taking notes.

“There were a lot of people taking notes while the candidates talked,” Rogers said. “I think the candidates noticed.”