Voices’ Blog

Buckey Boone, Advocating for Kids in Southwest Virginia

Posted:  -  By: Cassie Price

Buckey Boone, pictured here with his grandson, is a lifelong child advocate.

When it comes to crafting public policies, William “Buckey” Boone cautions against one-size-fits-all thinking. The long-time resident of Washington County has spent years advocating on behalf of children living in rural Southwest Virginia. He knows that if policies are to be effective, they must be flexible enough to account for differences in rural and urban communities.

“Three years ago, the General Assembly decided to draft statewide eligibility criteria for children going into Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) programs,” Buckey says. “Before that, it had been up to each school district to develop criteria about which kids were at-risk and therefore eligible for VPI.”

VPI funds school divisions to provide quality preschool programs for at-risk four-year-olds unserved by the federally funded Head Start preschool program. In 2015, the General Assembly was proposing limiting VPI eligibility to only those children living in households under a certain income level.

Buckey, then the director of the United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Smart Beginnings, an initiative aimed at creating a quality early childhood system, heard from many in the community who wanted to include other risk factors as criteria for children enrolling in VPI programs. They feared the omission of other risk factors, such as homelessness, households with parents who hadn’t graduated from high school, and single-parent households, might lead to lower enrollment and even the closing of some VPI programs in rural areas.

Buckey and other Southwest Virginia preschool advocates found an ally in Voices for Virginia’s Children policy director Emily Griffey.

“Emily researched what Tennessee and North Carolina were doing,” Buckey says. “She told us when the legislative meetings were taking place and encouraged us to come to Richmond for them. She explained how the advocacy process would work and made us feel comfortable about testifying.”

“She explained how the advocacy process would work and made us feel comfortable about testifying.”

Emily arranged for Buckey and two Southwest Virginia school superintendents to meet with members of the Joint Subcommittee on VPI. “After hearing from us, the committee recommended that the VPI eligibility criteria be changed, and the next year the General Assembly accepted that proposal,” Buckey says.

“The information Emily gave us was very helpful and made this one of the easiest advocacy efforts I’ve ever engaged in,” Buckey says.

Buckey also has high praise for Voices’ KIDS COUNT work. Voices receives funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track and analyze statewide data on four domains of child well-being: family economic security, education, health, and family and community. Voices disaggregates the data into regional snapshots, enabling state and national level comparisons.

“I have used the KIDS COUNT data to show people the problems kids and families are facing,” Buckey says. “I also found the data effective in helping Smart Beginnings with its strategic planning. I could pull the data right off Voices’ website. I asked the KIDS COUNT director questions about anything I couldn’t find online. And I used the data in my grant writing.”

“It’s nice to have one place to go to get a lot of this data,” he says.

“It’s nice to have one place to go to get a lot of this data.”

Buckey’s child-focused career and advocacy started 50 years ago when he was 18 and has included stints as a preschool aide, a kindergarten teacher, and in various roles in the nonprofit sector.

“I’ve always seen advocacy as naturally flowing from my work with families and children,” he says. “I was always working to change things, and that involved advocacy.”

Now retired, Buckey continues advocating for kids. His service on the board of the Virginia Department of Social Services brings him to Richmond every other month. And he remains connected to Voices.

So much so that Emily fondly jokes Buckey is running a Voices satellite office in Southwest Virginia.

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