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From McDowell County to the U.S. Senate, Thanks to You


When you become a member of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, you hope your support makes a difference, that it has the power to change minds and even change lives.

And every once in a while, we hear a story that shows how we are having an impact. Today, that story belongs to Sabrina Shrader, who survived her abusive childhood to become an advocate for children living in poverty in West Virginia.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting brought Shrader’s story to light. As reporter Jessica Lilly reported last year, Shrader grew up in poverty with an abusive father in McDowell County:

“My mom tried to protect us because she told me that when I heard my dad start fighting with her to run," Shrader told Lilly,"and we did. I have three younger siblings and so many times I would hear my dad hitting my mom and I would gather my three younger siblings and we would climb out the window and I would just run.

“So when you’re talking about families living in poverty you have to realize that many times families are doing the best they can with what they know how," she said, "and usually the people who are abusing their children were abused as children themselves and didn’t get the services they needed to stop the abuse.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Smith was running an anti-poverty organization based in Charleston called “Our Children, Our Future Campaign.” His wife heard the story on West Virginia Morning and told Smith about it.

Credit Ken Young
Reporter Jessica Lilly

I’ll let Smith tell you what happened next:

“Because of the story, I called Sabrina up and invited her to be a part of our coalition,” Smith said in an e-mail. “She rose to the occasion and was chosen by our alliance to give the closing speech during our testimony to the state legislature last September.

“She brought us all to tears and was asked a few weeks later to join a panel of PHD's and experts who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the topic of poverty and public health. Sabrina continues the fight today as one of our campaigns top leaders and steering committee members,” Smith said.

“And it all started with a beautifully composed story told by Jessica Lilly on West Virginia Public Radio,” Smith said.

Finally, we completed the circle when Stephen Smith introduced Shrader to our senior producer, John Nakashima, who is working on a documentary about fighting child poverty.

"I just set-up an interview and a future trip to McDowell with Sabrina for our Child Poverty video documentary," Nakashima writes in an e-mail. "Thank you Jessica for launching all these ships... and what a great story."
This is what we’re talking about when we talk about telling West Virginia’s story. Lilly found Shrader and told her story, and that story from the hollers of McDowell County was soon heard in the halls of the U.S. Senate.

Thanks to Shrader being brave enough to tell her story, and Lilly talented enough to tell it in a compelling way. That story took the work of engineers and editors, radio hosts and development personnel.

And, it took the support of our thousands of members. That’s you (hopefully!)

If you have other stories about when OUR (it’s yours, too!) journalism has made a difference, let me know, personally, at sfinn@wvpublic.org. And thank you -- I mean that.

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