McDowell native Sabrina Shrader is featured in the new West Virginia Public Broadcasting documentary, The First 1,000 Days: Investing In WV Children When It Counts. We first heard from Shrader when she shared her story in 2013 of how a program called Upward Bound provided resources that helped her to graduate from college after a difficult and abusive childhood. She was working as an Upward Bound Coordinator at Concord University. Things have changed since then.
“It’s really changed my life,” Shrader said. “Speaking out.”
When you say the word poverty, people usually get squeamish. But not Sabrina Shrader. The term “poverty” is often associated with a stigma, something to be ashamed of and often … associated with laziness.
Well it’s complicated and this story won’t cover it all or even scratch the surface of the challenges and complexities of even Sabrina Shrader’s life. It’s a glimpse into a world and conversation that’s normally taboo.
“I think there’s a good and bad in everything,” Shrader said. “Yeah, I had a hard childhood but I don’t want them to feel sorry for me.”
Shrader grew up in a home where she heard more than her parents worrying about bills. She says, sometimes arguments turned violent.
“My mom tried to protect us because she told me that when I heard my dad start fighting with her to run," Shrader said as she wiped a tear from her eye, "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.”
Shrader tells her story to give hope to folks struggling in poverty, and to raise awareness about resources that might exist to help those people. People like her parents.
“I just don’t want people to hate my parents,” Shrader said as tears fell down her face. “They did their best with what they had and what they had.”
Today, Shrader has became an advocate for folks in McDowell and people struggling to get out of poverty. She also agreed to be in The First 1,000 Days: Investing In WV Children When It Counts. The documentary emphasizes the importance of the first three years of life, how rapidly the human brain develops during that time, and also the challenges low income parents face.
Shrader’s First 1,000 Days
“Oh I’m sure they were really hard,” she said. “I was born three months early. The doctors tried to get my mom to abort me. I can’t imagine what my mom was going through. Here she was 16 pregnant with me and the doctors was telling her I wasn’t going to be born alive and she was going to die having me.”
“I was born without eyelashes fingernails hair I had jaundice I was in an incubator for two months.
And things weren’t just rough at home. Shrader’s childhood friend since Headstart, Heather Wingate, remembers having to defend Sabrina when she was picked on or even attacked at school.
Settling into an Advocacy Role
Things have changed for Sabrina Shrader. She’s no longer working as an Upward Bound Program Coordinator. During the election, she helped get folks registered to vote for the Our Vote Our Future campaign. Today, she’s without a solid job but she’s passionate about continuing her role as an advocate.
Shrader was pursuing a master’s degree, but she says health issues over the past year have forced her to quit graduate school.
“My whole life I feel like I’ve been setup to fail,” she said. “I have tried so many different things five or six different ways and then it still doesn’t work.”
Shrader is now a leader of the Our Children Our Future Campaign, an organization working to “preserve families by providing the highest quality services that target behavioral health, cultural and other related needs, according to their website.”
Shrader also advocates for more mental health services and spreading the word about programs that help families like Parents as Teachers, In Home Family Education, Birth to Three, Early Head Start and Head Start. These resources are effective, but not all of them exist in many of the hard-hit communities in the state like Shrader’s.
But Shrader is resilient and she refuses to give up on her hometown.
“I love this place,” she said. “I’m a Christian Appalachian and I was never taught to give up on anything. I was never taught to give up you just keep trying and hope for the best and eventually God’s going to give you miracles, and guess what? God’s given me all kinds of miracles.”
Fighting poverty is an enormous undertaking. But Shrader says giving up, just isn’t an option.