People protesting I advocate for childrenMore than 100 St. Louis-area residents –– organized by United Church of Christ-related Deaconess Foundation –– will join thousands converging on Missouri’s State Capitol in Jefferson on April 6 for the state’s 35th annual Child Advocacy Day.

Deaconess is organizing its #GetOnTheBus campaign to help community residents turn out for the day of marching, meetings with legislators, and workshops on child advocacy issues in the hope that Missouri legislators will get the message that children are the state’s best investment.

“Our presence will say to legislators that we are there to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable population among us,” said Matt Oldani, Deaconess’ vice president for strategic alignment. “We will carry a message to lawmakers that their decisions around policies and state budget matter to the well-being of Missouri’s children.”

The campaign is in keeping with the Deaconess vision of “a community that values the health and well-being of all children and gives priority attention to the most vulnerable.” It kicks off at 6:30 a.m. on April 6 in St. Louis, so that participants can reach the state capitol in time for the 8:30 a.m. start of events. Participants will return to St. Louis around 5 p.m.

According to the Missouri Community Action Network, more than 277,000 children live in poverty in Missouri alone. Child Advocacy Day organizers add that more than 100,000 children lack the health insurance to cover their medical needs. Some 7,000 are subjected to abuse and neglect and more than 310,000 under the age of 6 need child care.

In the face of these grave statistics, Child Advocacy Day participants are “joined together as parents, children, and professionals that value the health and well-being of every child, and are dedicated to each child reaching their full potential with no barriers to success,” Oldani said. While in Jefferson, he added, “groups will meet with lawmakers about specific bills moving through the legislative process and how they impact child well-being.”

Participation in Child Advocacy Day is in line with Deaconess’ strategy to achieve positive outcomes for children and youth via collaboration with diverse community partners. In 2016, Deaconess launched its Child Well-Being Policy Platform. The platform is a four-pronged advocacy effort to increase investment in early childhood education, justice and equity for all youth, economic mobility for families, and youth access to comprehensive health care.

In addition to grants and community partnerships, last fall the CHHSM-member ministry started construction of the Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being. The new 20,000-square-foot facility is being erected at the edge of St. Louis’ Vandeventer neighborhood, with completion slated for fall of this year. The $8.5-million development will offer space for community convening, and will model cross-sector collaboration, housing a grant maker, child advocacy organization and youth service provider under one roof.

But on April 6, listen close: that sound you’ll hear will be the Deaconess Foundation #GetOnThe Bus crew raising its collective voice on behalf of Missouri’s children.