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Ohio first lady visits South Point

SOUTH POINT — It didn’t seem to matter to Lexie Ingles that she was talking to the First Lady of Ohio.

But rather, it was the pink and pastel blue scarf Frances Strickland sported that captivated the 3-year-old.

“I put that on so I would look extra special,” Strickland told the young girl as the First Lady was taking a tour of the Early Childhood Center Monday morning.

Lexie and her Head Start friends soon lost interest in their visitor and went back to playtime. However, Strickland continued with her 20-minute tour of the South Point center before meeting with and hearing comments from Lawrence County’s Appalachian Family and Children First Council, the purpose of her visit to Southern Ohio.

A year ago, Strickland started visiting each of the 88 counties’ Family and Children First Councils, an initiative that began in 1993 under then Gov. George Voinovich’s administration to offer resources to families including those with special needs children or in the low-income bracket.

Visiting Lawrence County’s was Strickland’s 74th council, with a tour of Pike County’s council to follow in the afternoon.

First, she was given an overview of the demographics of the county that has watched the number of children living in poverty increase from 27.03 percent in 2000 to 35.4 percent in 2004.

“There is a large poverty presence here,” Chuck Harper, council chair, who acted as moderator for the morning session, said.

Next Strickland was given an overview of the council’s membership makeup and the community-based programs it offers, including Help Me Grow, a pre-natal and preschool program that served 250 at-risk children last year.

Then, Strickland opened up the session to discussion and questions to come up with “an informed sharing of what you know,” she said.

“We’re looking for new ideas that could be done without increased cost to share with everybody else,” she told the group. “It is about wanting to support your team effort. You are doing wonderful things together. The problems are going up and the resources stay the same at best.”

One of the major points of contention was with the state mandating a large percentage of the makeup of the council when a number of those members, including school superintendents and parents, do not attend meetings.

“We have mandated members on council who don’t see the need to attend meetings,” Paul Mollette, MRDD superintendent, told Strickland. “If you do

have to be here, there should be some way to enforce it. Maybe some shouldn’t be mandated. Either be here or you shouldn’t

have to be here.”

However Strickland wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of an enforcement policy.

“We want people to come together because they want to” she said.

After the two-hour meeting, Strickland made reference to the fact that both she and her husband are from the southern part of the state as Gov. Strickland served six terms as U.S. Representative from the Sixth District before going to Columbus.

“I feel really at home here,” she said. “They spoke in more honest terms than I am used to

hearing. There is a resourcefulness here that comes the rural area. It is a reflection of how they care about families.”