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For Pittsburgh's children — one voice

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Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

With Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd's announcement that he will be stepping down to head up Allies for Children, the missing piece of Pittsburgh's economic development strategy will be getting some sorely needed attention.

It seems that young adults are doing fine here and the professional sector is booming. With the shift from steel and heavy industry, Pittsburgh's “eds and meds” economy is firmly in place. But at the rear of the pack, our children languish, falling further behind, and work must be done.

While our region is rich with effective nonprofits aimed at children's individual needs, each speaks with a separate voice to government and vital funders. The challenge for Dowd and Allies for Children will be to coalesce those diverse voices and speak with one voice.

As Shakespeare reminded us, all that glitters is not gold. The next time you soak in the view of Downtown from Mt. Washington, remember that more than 40,000 children will go to bed in Allegheny County that night without knowing where their next meal will come from.

Approximately one in six of the region's children lives in poverty and just short of 50 percent wake up every day under low-income conditions.

“Those children are starting their life, starting their experience with us without the things they need in order to succeed,” Dowd says.

Dowd, part of the wave of “new immigrants” to Pittsburgh — this time coming from other parts of the nation as well as other lands — moved here from Missouri to further his education, earning his Ph.D. at Pitt.

He stayed, sinking his roots, meeting his wife, restoring a house in Highland Park, raising five kids and teaching high school history before winning a seat on the Pittsburgh School Board.

In 2007, Dowd was elected to Pittsburgh City Council, where he was part of a group of leaders that provided an antidote to nearly seven years of Charlie Sheen-like antics in City Hall. He became known for his unwavering focus on issues, sometimes eschewing political alliances, with a disdain for political back-slapping.

Yet, the political arena has no equal as preparation for the daunting task of providing a voice for those unable to speak for themselves. While it may be Politics 101, anytime you can broaden your base, anytime you can speak for hundreds of thousands instead of mere hundreds, there is a far better chance that power will listen.

Martha W. Isler is a nationally recognized early childhood education expert, a longtime advocate for children across Pennsylvania and the president of the new nonprofit.

Isler, who grew up in Berks County, knows that fixing the fountain of our youth is at least as important as fixing the fountain at The Point. Neglecting our children, leaving them behind as the rest of the community prospers and grows, is to be done at our own peril.

“It's like eating your seed corn,“ Isler says. “Next year, you won't have anything to plant.”

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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