Jennifer Garner, award-winning actress and mother of three young children, does not have much extra time.
So, the fact that she chooses to serve as an advocate for Save the Children speaks volumes for what the organization means to her.
“I travel to D.C. a lot to do advocate work,” said Garner, who for three years has held the position of artist ambassador with Save the Children’s U.S. programs. “It’s also important to go to the sites to be a witness to what I see going on. Kids are hungry to learn.”
Garner said it is important to her to funnel energy into something with the most impact.
“Without a doubt, that is Save the Children,” she said.
Garner spoke on Tuesday morning in a meeting room at Charleston Embassy Suites for the closing plenary session of the Southern Legislative Conference. The audience included lawmakers from 15 southern states.
Also speaking at the event was Mark Kennedy Shriver, who leads Save the Children’s programs and advocacy efforts in 17 states. He has also served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
Garner said a support group is invaluable for a young mother who can help her children get a good educational start in life.
She told the story of visiting Matthew, an 11-month-old with no books or toys in his home. She watched a Save the Children staff member work with him and his mother who was also caring for his 2-week-old sister. The advocate took along books, toys and encouragement. Garner saw the mother gain confidence as her son babbled and played ball.
“I was so excited to witness it,” Garner said.
Save the Children is an independent organization geared to improve the lives of children through early childhood education and literacy programs as well as physical activity and better nutrition. In 2010, West Virginia began offering Save the Children programs in some areas.
Through early childhood education, trained advocates go into homes to teach parents the importance of reading to children and using toys to stimulate learning. They take along toys and books to children who often have no such items in their poverty-stricken environments. Through encouragement and moral support, parents gain the confidence and know-how to help their children learn.
“Ninety percent of brain growth occurs before the age of 5,” said Garner, who added it is unfair for a child to have to play catch up in order to succeed.
Extending a helping hand and a bit of knowledge to a mother who feels isolated and frightened can make all the difference, she said.
Garner cited her own support group of other mothers who walk with her and share experiences and insight.
As children become older, Save the Children offers after school and summer literacy programs. Books are provided for libraries badly in need of literature to stimulate learning and a love for reading.
Save the Children, an international organization, works with other organizations, governments, nonprofits, and corporate sponsors without a political agenda or religious orientation.
Garner wants all children to have lives filled with opportunities and books. That is possible despite financial obstacles, she said.
As an example, she used her own mother, Patricia, who attended the event on Tuesday.
Garner said her mother was the middle of 11 children in a family poor in money but rich in books, storytelling and games. Her mother went to school in dresses made of flour sacks, put herself through college, and became a teacher who inspired many to have a love for learning.
She said everyone can help children get a good start in life through raising awareness of the value of early education, volunteering in literacy programs, donating books, or making other contributions.
When Shriver took the microphone, he praised Garner’s help with the organization.
“Jennifer summarized beautifully what Save the Children does,” he said. “She is a great actress but an even greater mom and advocate for Save the Children.”
Save the Children began in Kentucky in 1932 and is now in 17 states with programs soon to begin in Missouri, he said. As a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Shriver said he realizes that many people ask for a piece of the pie but the best way to improve the economy is by investing in education.
“Forty percent of kids are not involved in early childhood education,” said Shriver, who added providing that support could have a major impact on the economy within one generation.
“In these tough economic times we often talk about slices of the pie,” he said. “What we need to talk about is how to expand that pie. The best way is to invest in our kids.”
Go to the web site www.savethechildren.org for more information. Save the Children programs in West Virginia are now in the counties of Clay, Roane, Mason, McDowell and Cabell.