Bright and early on a February morning, I drove with a team from Save the Children to a rural community in Los Angeles County to visit families supported by the organization’s early learning programs. We pulled off the dusty road and into the warm home of potentially the hardest working single mother I have ever met. She has four daughters; her three older daughters were at school, but her youngest was ready to entertain us all. We played with this beautiful 1-year-old girl, who was shockingly comfortable surrounded by strangers, while Maria, a Save the Children program coordinator, handed her mother books and educational games. In both English and Spanish I heard her reiterate how important it is to read to your child and to let them discover how to use these toys on their own. In essence, how to be a present parent. I sat there secretly wishing I had a woman like Maria to visit me in my home when I had my first child.
As a mother and a lover of all children, I have always been drawn to empowering our youth, believing very strongly that education is an escape for children who are struggling. For that reason, I joined forces with Save the Children, a nonprofit that shares this belief and is dedicated to giving children in America and around the world the opportunity to reach their full potential. It was surprising to me to learn that one in four children in the U.S. living in rural areas are growing up in poverty, a rate higher than kids in urban areas. That’s why we drove to Los Angeles County that day—a community in my own backyard—to witness a severe level of rural poverty many of us are unaware of and its effects on American youth.
After our home visit, we trekked further inland to a community on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Save the Children also runs before and after school programs, one of which is called Healthy Choices. This health and nutrition program injects a daily dose of exercise and healthy eating into the school day. We started with a (strangely difficult for me) workout routine that taught movement skills while combining fun and fitness, followed by assisted small group reading activities and finished with yummy, healthy snacks.
It was pretty remarkable to see the joy these kids had for staying after school. Yes, staying after school—remember when you were a kid in school and couldn’t wait to go home and play? Healthy Choices provides these kids with a place to play and it was educational. Literally, a parent’s dream! I was told by one of the volunteers that weekends are always the hardest for these kids because they don’t know if they are going to have a wholesome meal. These kids eventually had to go home, but they did so with full bellies and full hearts.
Nobody gets a manual on how to be a parent. It’s scary and you are constantly worried that you are going to mess up in some monumental way. Having support from an organization like Save the Children is a huge benefit for these families who are struggling to work, make ends meet, and parent all at the same time.
Save the Children is creating stability for these children and families. Starting with educating new parents on how to be their child’s first teacher, then nourishing kids’ bodies with healthy food options and providing a safe and fun environment where children can develop a thirst for knowledge. But the need is great. There is a frustratingly long waiting list for families in these communities to enroll in these programs and there are more children who need our help.
I’ll be honest. I’m in the blissfully bubbled one percent. During this trip I found myself feeling very guilty of my privileged existence, most of the time knowing full well that buying diapers for my infant was not a major financial burden and that hot, nutritious food was going to be on my table that night – and in fact, it was going to be organic! My kids go to private school and I don’t need to worry about a lack of one-on-one education. We all know how hard it is to raise a child. And us parents need to look out for each other. Remember the saying, “It takes a village?" Umm… heck yes it does. It feels powerful to have support. So, look around in your community and when you see a parent in need, lend a hand. Our children need us in order to have the childhood they deserve.
Cobie Smulders is well known for her role as Robin Scherbatsky on CBS’s hit show “How I Met Your Mother” and Maria Hill in Marvel's Avengers franchise and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Smulders lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and two daughters.