where, according to The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, " ... the poor are poorer and the rich are richer than the national averages."
Community leader after leader verified the alarming facts. From Family Court Judges, to the Director of Juvenile Justice Service, to medical and mental health professionals, to teachers, to parents, the words were the same: "Our State is in dire need..." "Numerous families looking for help", "none available, especially for low income parents or those with special needs."
As Dr. Paul Fischer, Medical Director of Emergency Services, Sunrise Hospital, put it, "Our State has very few resources for the families in our community.... a resource center for parents is duly needed... right here to prevent the physical damage, illness and mortality that follows emotional problems."
If these children and families are suffering on the most basic levels, no wonder we turned up the following disturbing facts:
* In 2000, Nevada ranked 50th in America for percentage of youth who dropped out of school. Hispanics, native Alaskan, and African Americans comprise the three highest dropout demographics.
* Nevada ranks 47th in the nation for student-teacher ratios, grades PK-12.
* Nevada Public School Academic Achievement (measured by 2000 NAEP Nevada student performance) fell Below Basic levels in all core areas in both 4th and 8th grades.
* Nevada's weak charter school bill severely limits public school choice and there are few other options available to parents.
* Nevada currently ranks 38th in the nation for per pupil expenditures, or spends about $1200 less than required to do the basic job of teaching children.
* Guidance counselor to student ratios are at an astonishing 574 students per counselor, negatively impacts each of Nevada's 245,659 public school children, from failure to intervene early through the inability to provide hands-on student management.
* Early Childhood Education is largely inadequate.
* Almost 13% per cent of Nevada's teens are not in school nor are they working.
* Nevada's teen pregnancy and birth rates ranked 41st of the 50 states in 2000.
* Substance abuse, including alcohol abuse and drug abuse is rampant starting in middle school.
* While the national suicide rate is approximately 13 per 100,000 people, Nevada's suicide rate is approximately 26 per 100,000 people, or double the national average. And yet, the majority of children needing help go without treatment.
In the Silver State, the bounty is selective. Federal statistics revealed that Nevada's participation in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, was dismally inadequate. In 2001, Nevada, the nation's 35th largest state by population, and booming, ranked 42nd in combined state and federal TANF spending on cash assistance. Many recipient children go hungry, according to Nevada Legal Services attorney Alda Anderson. State welfare administrator, Nancy Ford acknowledged. "We've always been a low-grant state."
Complicating the issue is the urban and rural contrast. Despite leading the nation in population boom, 85% of Nevadans live in and around its three population centers, Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City. The remaining 15% are isolated in 14 other rural counties posing huge challenges to agencies trying to provide consistent and effective community-based service and social outreach. This is a critical problem, as some of these have the highest proportion of children with special needs.
My trip to see Camp Make Believe then, turned from finding grant funds to replicate, research and offer a parent resource center that could be replicated nationally - to a fiscal rescue mission.
As I toured Camp Make Believe, examined its after-school program, materials, tools, strategies, the marriage of this innovative program and a parent resource center was natural and crucial, for the State and for the nation.
Camp Make Believe, a multi-tiered, multi-media package designed to deal specifically with behavioral and emotional issues that all children experience and can readily identify with is targeted to all children and their families.
Through its pioneering programs, strategies and tools, and highly trained, creative and expert staff, they are coming up with solutions, methodologies to help children develop self-control, self-esteem and self-confidence, that are easy to use, cost-effective, replicable - and easy to teach parents, educators and counselors, across the nation, and Nevada, a task that may be almost as challenging. Tennessee statistics are eerily similar to those in Nevada.
Camp Make Believe has the potential to meet that challenge, and more. To become an influential voice, a catalyst and a model of excellence whose mission is to insure that all children and families have access to the strategies they need to reach their maximum potential - and that no child or parent - is left behind. Like the arid desert they occupy, Nevada families need support, sustenance. They need water.
Camp Make Believe just may be that oasis.