I used to live in Pennsylvania and when I told people I grew up in South Florida, the following conversation was inevitable:
Person: Oh! Miami!
Me: No, I’m from West Palm Beach.
Person: Palm Beach? Are your parents rich? Do they live next to Celine Dion?
Me: No. No. West Palm Beach. It’s not the island. It’s across the bridge on the mainland.
Person: So, wait. Do your parents know Celine Dion or not?
When Walt Whitman talked about being large and containing multitudes, he could have very easily been talking about Palm Beach County.
At 2,386 square miles, our county is almost as big as the entire state of Delaware and contains a diverse array of people from all walks of life.
Palm Beach is in the top five of the wealthiest counties in Florida and a good majority of that is thanks to the wealth concentrated on Palm Beach. According to Forbes Magazine, 29 billionaires have ties to the island and the median family income for this sun-kissed parcel of land is $137,867.
A mere hour west of these mansions and meticulously manicured golf courses is Belle Glade – a city known for sugarcane, rich soil the color of espresso and at one point, having the second highest crime rate in the nation.
Almost a third of all Belle Glade residents live below the poverty line and the median income for a family of four is $26,756.
Palm Beach County is large and it has multitudes.
And this is exactly why Changing The Odds in Palm Beach County matters. Because we live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation and yet, 42% of our children live in low-income households.
The effects of poverty on the development of a child are real and poverty can take a toll on their from their physical wellbeing, their academic success and their mental wellness.
Researchers at Cornell University showed that children who grow up in poverty face adverse neurological changes which limit their language, memory retention and analytical thinking skills. Additionally, children raised in poverty have higher levels of stress hormones which lead to a reduction in brain power, i.e. executive functions.
According to the National Health Interview Survey, children living below the poverty line are 1.3 times more likely to experience learning disabilities, developmental delays and reduced cognitive abilities.
Environmental factors can also have a detrimental effect on children. Growing up in impoverished areas, children are much more likely to come into contact with lead-based paint. Four to five million children live in homes whose lead content exceeds the accepted threshold for safety. When they eat the sweet-tasting paint chips that flake off their walls and windowsills, they risk stunted growth, hearing loss, kidney toxicity, impaired blood production and a decrease in IQ.
A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that a child’s blood lead level declines as the family’s income increases. By working with families to ensure their financial stability, we are also helping to ensure the wellness of their children.
Knowing this is knowing that the odds are stacked against Palm Beach County’s children and families. However, thanks to Community Partners and our commitment to Changing The Odds, the odds are not insurmountable.
Changing the Odds isn’t just a catchy slogan we slap on tote bags and magnets.
Changing The Odds is an active decision, a passion and a commitment to make Palm Beach County – our home – a better place. Community Partners is changing the odds by working with low-income residents to improve housing, community and child and family well-being. We believe that every child has the right to a safe and happy home. And that our community can create conditions where their biggest concern is being forced to eat green beans for dinner instead of fearing abuse, neglect., hunger or violence.
The road might seem long but working together – we can and will Change The Odds for Palm Beach County’s children and families.