Promoting child well-being in the United States

Why World Vision? In today's Q&A, Romanita Hairston, World Vision's vice president of U.S. programs, describes the variety of ways that our work helps to rebuild hope and promote child well-being at home.

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1. World Vision’s work is focused internationally on providing fullness of life for children by developing their communities. How do our U.S. programs develop communities to support children here in the United States?

Our U.S. programs work similarly to our international work. We work with committed and effective community leaders to improve child well-being. We provide resources that support effective development, including training, program models, school supplies, basic necessities such as food and personal hygiene items, academic scholarships, volunteer opportunities, and leadership development.

World Vision works as a partner to achieve collective and sustainable impact. Each provider is one part of the puzzle that is more effective when the pieces are connected and working together in unity.

2. What differences are there between working with children and communities in the United States versus around the world? 

The primary difference is context. The root causes of poverty are similar around the world, but not all poverty is the same. There are differences between rural and urban poverty, for example. This often has to do with population density, social contexts, and level of access to services. Urban areas tend to be denser with more services but often a higher level of social discord.

Another issue is that poverty is relative. The living conditions of one vulnerable group may differ significantly from another group elsewhere in the world that has greater access to resources. For example, in the developing world, we often see and hear stories of visibly malnourished or stunted children. In the United States, food insecurity is on the rise -- but American children affected by hunger may still appear healthy simply because they have access to cheap, high-calorie foods that nonetheless lack necessary nutrition.

Or take the example of income. Internationally, millions live on less than $2 per day, which renders them unable to meet their most basic needs. Wages in the United States are much higher than that, of course, but homeless American families unable to work or earn an income face the same problem of not being able to provide for themselves that families in the developing world do.

Finally, there's the example of unstable environments. Worldwide, in places of war and conflict, children are sometimes forced to become child soldiers or face other horrific exploitation. In the United States, urban areas like Chicago that have problems with gang violence can become similarly adversarial environments, where children are afraid to walk to school, and some are even forced to join gangs or risk personal harm.

The common result in all of these examples is that children are vulnerable and have limited access to what they need to thrive. The causes of this vulnerability are similar; what's different are the symptoms and the contexts in which they take place.

3. A large part of our U.S. programs work is done by partnering with local organizations. How do these partnerships work? How do we empower them to work with children and families in their communities? 

With the poverty rate at an all-time high, many nonprofits are stretched thin, putting much of their resources toward direct services. Very few are able to focus on innovation, evaluation, and capacity-building to deal with an increasingly complex environment.

World Vision works through partners to provide basic necessities and to improve the quality of nonprofit services. Organizations work with World Vision as members of our gift-in-kind program; affiliates that deliver a World Vision project in a community; or as a partner with community-based initiatives. Young people apply or are selected to serve as interns, national youth advisory council members, program alumnae, and leaders in our projects.

4. Last week, we featured our work in disaster response on the blog. What does disaster response look like in the United States? What kind of support do we provide for disaster recovery? How long do we stay?

A World Vision U.S. programs team conducted an assessment visit to Granbury, Texas, following the tornadoes that took place there on May 15, 2013. (Photo: Rick Miltimore/World Vision)


Like many agencies across the country, World Vision focuses first on the preservation of life, the reduction of suffering, and the stabilization of communities immediately after a disaster. Our teams are deployed at the first signs or right after a disaster strikes to begin assessing and developing plans for our long-term response.

The phases of response go from the response stage to the recovery stage to rebuilding. Our niche is long-term recovery and rebuilding. It is not uncommon for World Vision to work in an area for close to two years following a disaster, assuming we have adequate funding. This is compared to a 90-day period for those focused on the immediate recovery and response.

5. What part of your work with U.S. Programs excites you? What inspires you?

I am excited about our work to mobilize young people, organizations, and adults to give their time, talent, and treasure toward improving child well-being. World Vision does amazing work across the country, but we know that the nonprofit sector can’t do this alone. I’m thrilled that we get to help others make a bigger difference right where they are with what they have to give.

We are champions of child well-being. I am inspired every day by the courageous young people and community members I meet who overcome the seemingly impossible obstacles they face and make a choice to give back to others.

6. As a Christian organization, how is our work in U.S. programs motivated by our faith?

We live out our faith in the lives we lead, the words we speak, the deeds we do, and our witness to small and large miracles that happen around us every day. We stand ready to give a reason for the work we do. We are not just here to serve the communities, but to love those with whom we work and those we are privileged to serve.

Make a one-time donation to help feed U.S. children and families in need. Each World Vision Family Food Kit includes nutritious meals like oatmeal, lentil soup, pasta, and bean-and-rice casserole. Your gift can help fill the gap during these summer months, when many children are out of school and thus lose the stability and dependability of hot meals each day.

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