Mary Dunne Stewart's oldest son began kindergarten this year. He stepped onto the school bus prepared in all the right places: great early learning experiences, access to preventive health care and an opportunity to be a part of a loving and caring family.
Stewart thinks this upbringing should be the right of every child. Her bold dedication to this belief recently led her to orchestrate a nonpartisan rally at the Capitol Square Bell Tower on Oct. 6. Working with first lady Anne Holton, Stewart set out to make sure members of the General Assembly don't forget about children when they create and modify policy this fall — and that their needs extend far beyond the classroom.
Stewart's advocacy through Voices for Virginia's Children has resulted in 8,000 more children having access to foster care and 2,500 more children receiving subsidies to assist with childcare expenses. She climbs no small mountain: Virginia has a child poverty rate of 13.8 percent — up 13,000 children from 2007 — and the capital city's rate is 32 percent. Stewart says these ever-increasing statistics only serve as motivation.
John R. Morgan, the organization's executive director, says Stewart's infectious ability to stimulate change has made her a “valued and sought-after partner in efforts to influence public policy.”
The Florida native, who also serves on the board of Art 180, helped implement Voices for Change. The initiative asked youth in Virginia's foster care system to express their thoughts on the system through art, writing and photography. The resulting exhibit has traveled across the state.