Garner naming six Save the Children sites in W.Va.

Actress Jennifer Garner will be in Mason County on Friday to announce six new Save the Children sites in West Virginia.

Garner, who grew up in Charleston and works with Save the Children as an artist ambassador, will speak at Ashton Elementary School at 12:15 p.m. Friday. Mason Superintendent Suzanne Dickens and Mark Shriver, managing director of Save the Children’s U.S. programs, will also attend.

Save the Children’s U.S. programs focus on providing impoverished children with quality early childhood and literacy education, as well as physical activity and nutrition programs. It reached more than 60,000 children nationwide last year through those programs, according to the organization’s website.

“The results have been terrific,” Shriver said.

He said Save the Children will run programs at Ashton Elementary, Beale Elementary and Point Pleasant Primary in Mason County and Geary Elementary, Spencer Elementary and Walton Elementary in Roane County. He said those programs would serve about 2,500 children.

He credited Sen. Joe Manchin and former first lady Gayle Manchin for helping establish Save the Children in West Virginia. He said the Manchins were impressed with the organization’s work after reviewing other states’ successes and visiting programs in Kentucky.

“They believe it’s a good effort, it’s a strong effort to help kids get into kindergarten and first grade ready to learn,” he said.

Shriver said the Manchin administration pledged $1 million over two years to fund Save the Children programs in West Virginia. The organization will match that money “at least one-to-one” with private donations, Shriver said, although he expects to raise more than that.

He said Gayle also was “instrumental in choosing those sites and getting the program up off the ground.”

West Virginia will be the 15th state to have Save the Children programs.

Shriver said the early childhood education program focuses on newborn to 3-year-old children. Save the Children staff members visit children’s homes to teach parents the importance of reading to their children and using games to stimulate their cognitive and motor skill development.

“A lot of very poor families don’t have books in the house, and they don’t have games that stimulate a child’s brain growth,” Shriver said.

Home workers also give books to families and set up meetings for parents with principals, teachers and other parents at their child’s eventual school.

Once children are in first grade, Save the Children starts working with them in school, after-school and summer literacy programs.

“It’s a very intensive, structured effort to get kids’ reading skills up to at least grade level,” Shriver said. It gives children “essentially an additional four months of school.”

Children read and are read to in those programs and take quizzes on the books they cover. Shriver said the children at the after-school program also receive a healthy snack and half an hour of “vigorous physical activity” through games designed to keep them moving.

In his January State of the State address, then Gov. Manchin said he planned to direct $1 million in state monies to fund Save the Children programs in rural counties around the state. Garner attended the address in support of the organization.

“We look forward to working with Save the Children to help move our state and our nation forward,” Manchin said then.

Garner said after the speech that she hoped the program would help the children of the state reach their potential.

“There is such a need here, and there is so much unmet potential right here in West Virginia,” she said. “The cycle of poverty in this state is going on for generations and generations and generations, and we hope we can provide a new energy to help the kids reach their true potential and avoid that.

“The kids here are just as smart as any of the kids in the country,” she said.

The actress said the state would fund three locations and Save the Children would raise money to fund an additional three.

Garner has worked with Save the Children since last year and unveiled the organization’s State of the World Mother’s Report in 2009. It showed that two-thirds of the nation’s fourth-graders are reading below grade level.

She called for President Barack Obama and Congress to provide $2 billion in additional funding for early childhood education programs. Garner read to children in a Head Start program in Washington, D.C., before heading to Capitol Hill to meet with several national leaders on the matter.

Save the Children also does extensive overseas relief work.

In 2009 and 2010 alone, the organization helped young earthquake survivors in Haiti, worked to prevent HIV/AIDS in Africa and helped feed children in impoverished countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Malawi.