Editor’s Note: This continues our series on health and socioeconomic issues affecting Santa Rosa County.
MILTON — Santa Rosa ranks second in Florida when it comes to social and economic factors, including children in poverty, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s latest County Health Rankings.
However, poverty still affects many area families.
The rate of this county’s children in poverty has fluctuated in recent years. Seventeen percent of Santa Rosa’s children under age 18 currently live in poverty; this is an increase from 2014, when the county was at 16 percent, but a decrease from 2013, when the rate was 18 percent, according to the study.
In Florida, 23 percent of children live in poverty and, in the U.S., 21 percent, according to the study. Of Florida’s 556,521 families in poverty, 70.6 percent have multiple children under age 18.
HELP IS AVAILABLE
The Department of Health offers a number of programs to assist families in need.
“One of the programs we have to address the issue of children in poverty is the McKinney-Vento program,” Deborah Stilphen, DOH-Santa Rosa’s operations analyst, said. “The program was the first of its type in the country.”
DOH-Santa Rosa and the Santa Rosa County School District implemented the program, which allows children identified as homeless or unaccompanied youths to obtain case management services from a school nurse and McKinney-Vento liaison in the schools. The program provides nursing assessments, assistance with health services and referrals for eligible students and their family members.
According to DOH, the McKinney-Vento program’s long-term goal is to improve students’ attendance and graduation rates, decreasing the risk of poverty.
Other programs help low-income students afford school lunches, attend classes, graduate from high school and attain higher education.
According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, if a student’s guardians earn at or below current income eligibility guidelines, they should contact their school or district to complete a school meal application. The local school or district officials review applications before granting free or reduced lunches.
If students’ parents receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or are eligible for unemployment compensation, all their children who attend school automatically qualify for free school meals.
As for higher learning, coaches with the organization College Possible meet with low-income students in after-school sessions to help prepare them for college.
The junior curriculum introduces students to college life through campus tours and summer programs. The senior curriculum helps students apply for college, financial aid and scholarships, and oversees their transition to higher-level education.
As for students receiving higher education, the federal government spends about $35 billion a year on the Pell Grant program, which annually provides low-income students up to $5,730 each to help pay for college.
ONE FAMILY’S STORY
The Kradel family bowed their heads to pray the morning of April 14 in Milton High School’s parking lot, site of the OneLove food pantry.
Roxan and Ronny Kradel embraced the hands of their children, 5-year-old Jeremiah and 7-year-old R.J., as they thanked God for assistance they have received.
“I tell everybody, with all the struggles we’ve been through, you have to look at God every day and start moving from that ledge,” Roxan said.
The Kradels lost their home a few years ago due to the loss of Roxan’s and Ronny’s jobs. Roxan was pregnant with Jeremiah at the time; Ronny was diagnosed with cancer, and several months’ hospitalization made him unable to work.
They went from church to church seeking help, according to Roxan. Then Family Promise stepped in.
“They showed us a new way of living; they showed us hope,” Roxan said. “They taught us how to manage our money and … how to take what money we had and [use it] to eat on and to get stuff for our family.”
Roxan now works at the Waffle House; Ronny’s cancer is in remission. The family received goods from the OneLove food pantry to help them with their Easter meal.
“I recommend to anybody that has hit rock bottom, go to Santa Rosa County [Family] Promise,” Ronny said.
“Just try it one time; they might be hard [on] you, but it’s a good organization.”