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Save the Children Digs In With Its United States Roots

SAVE the Children is best known for its work overseas, but it began in the United States and has long maintained its presence here. The agency's first field office in this country was set up 62 years ago in Harlan County, Kentucky., an already poor area devastated by the Great Depression.

Work to improve the education and health of children is still under way in the southern Appalachians. But Save the Children's domestic program has extended to urban and rural areas throughout the South and parts of the East, as well as Indian reservations in various regions of the country.

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Nancy Blanks-Bisson is the agency's Southeast regional director. She has overseen the development of many programs; among her favorites is one dubbed STAR (Serious Teens Acting Responsibly).

The program started in response to a high teen pregnancy rate in Harleyville, S.C., a town located near the interstate highway connecting Columbia and Charleston. There were drug problems in the town, too, and a 44 percent high-school dropout rate.

Last year, says Ms. Blanks-Bisson, seven youths involved in the program received full scholarships to college. Even more impressive, of the 400 teenage girls in the program, only four have gotten pregnant in the past four years.

``It's run by the kids,'' says Blanks-Bisson. The youngsters are so involved, she says, that they write ``political position papers'' to local, state, and even federal officials, telling how the problems they face can best be addressed.

The Harleyville STAR participants have traveled to other communities to help start similar programs. Blanks-Bisson emphasizes that letting local people take hold of their programs and expand them is an integral part of Save the Children's philosophy.

Nancy Travis applies that to her work as director of Save the Children's Child Care Resource Center in Atlanta. A basic resource Ms. Travis has helped develop are local ``family daycare'' providers, who operate small child-care businesses in their own homes. The center works diligently to improve both the quality and quantity of these providers. A primary goal, Travis says, is to move from custodial care to developmental care, ``to get them off the couch and down on the floor really working with kids.''

Child-care needs, parenting training, organizing teens to oppose violence and drugs - the whole gamut of programs is needed in Bridgeport, Conn. Bridgeport is Connecticut's largest urban center and a stew of social and economic problems. Bob Kocienda runs the Save the Children program there, which includes a project named SAVE (Stand Against Violence Everywhere). Kids aged 13 to 17 are trained as ``peer mediators'' through SAVE. The idea, Mr. Kocienda says, is to show teenagers alternative ways to settle differences. ``It's healthy to argue, but do it in a healthy way,'' as Kocienda puts it.

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He has worked in many of Save the Children's overseas projects and sees common ground between the programs here and abroad. Poverty presents many of the same problems in Bridgeport as in Manila or Bangkok, Kocienda says. And whether it's street violence in the US or a war elsewhere, people run from it and become refugees. Their basic need is to regain some control over their lives.

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