An App State club is devoted to advocating for and educating the public on children’s rights in the High Country through service projects, ranging from diaper drives to Homecoming festivities.
Children in the High Country need financial help, and a bubble of unawareness on App State’s campus prevents students from seeing and acknowledging the needs around us, Children’s Advocacy Club President Seth Negus said.
“It’s not just all over the world. It’s here right outside of the door, right outside of campus, just a few steps,” Negus said.
CAC works with partnerships across Watauga County, including Western Youth Network, Parent to Parent, Who Needs a Change? of the High Country, and the social services and foster care system, senior health care management major and event coordinator Abbey Sronce said.
Negus, a senior public relations major, found his love for helping children after working in his high school theater department.
“I was in charge of all the younger kids, so all the younger kids that came on to be Munchkins in the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ I would be keeping them entertained while they were off stage,” Negus said.
The enjoyment he found working with kids encouraged him to join CAC, a club centered around meeting the needs of children in Boone, Negus said.
“It’s one thing to like kids; it’s one thing to work with kids, but it’s another thing to actually see those problems and want to help the kids,” Negus said.
The club works with these organizations through fundraising, event volunteering, child care and organizing drives for necessities, such as diapers and school supplies.
One of CAC’s most frequent events is the diaper drive for Who Needs A Change? of the High Country, Negus said.
Who Needs A Change? is a diaper bank that started after Meggan Knight, a former teacher in Watauga County, saw children in school wrapped in newspapers and month-old diapers, Negus said.
The club stands outside local grocery stores to collect diaper donations. CAC volunteers ask for monetary donations or people can buy diapers and donate on the spot, Negus said.
“We try to really go out into the community and do some really good work. We don’t just go play with children,” Negus said. “We have a great need in the Boone community, and beyond that, we’re really trying to get people to pay attention, too, and become more involved.”
CAC has also organized Festival of Trees with Western Youth Network, where the club decorates a Christmas tree based on a theme. The tree is sold and all proceeds go to WYN.
“Growing up, I had a family that was so supportive of me and provided me with all the resources that I needed, and there are just so many kids that don’t have that family,” Sronce said. “So, when I came here, seeing the need here burst my bubble of this world that I live in, and seeing the struggles really makes me think about what I would need if I was there and what would I want from my community.”
Recently, CAC has worked closely with Watauga County Social Services. Jessica Winebarge, a social worker in Watauga County, gave a presentation during a CAC meeting, which explained the needs of the foster care system in the High Country.
Winebarger said recent movement in North Carolina General Assembly, including House Bill 918, has created stricter laws about foster care and parental drug abuse. Section 3 cites that if a juvenile or newborn is exposed to drugs that are not medically related, then it is considered nonsecure custody, and the child is removed to another family member, according to the NCGA.
With the surge of drug-addicted newborns in recent years due to the opioid epidemic, more newborns are going into the foster care system, especially if one of the relatives of another fit guardian can’t help the child.
Around 40 cases of opioid-addicted newborns have been reported since in Watauga county since January, Winebarger said.
Changes in laws due to the opioid epidemic correlate to a strain on the foster system. Last year, the number of kids in the Watauga County foster system went from 35 to 76; most were newborns and toddlers. The organization has had a hard time maintaining enough money to cover the influx, Winebarger said.
CAC worked with local foster services Sept. 21-22 for the Foster/Adopt Conference. This helped prospective foster or adoptive parents complete the required 10 hours of continuing education to learn more about how to care and raise foster or adopted children. CAC members helped with child care, snacks and general volunteering.
In the coming weeks, CAC is planning its first diaper drive of the 2019-20 academic year. The club will also host a fundraiser at Come Back Shack Nov. 3 to raise money for some their partner organizations.