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A measure of success

Sabrina Shrader told legislators on Wednesday that she is the first in her impoverished McDowell County family to graduate from high school, the first to graduate from college, and in June hopes to be the first to earn a master's degree. The 29-year-old credits Upward Bound for her school success, as David Gutman reported in Thursday's Gazette.

Shrader works for Concord University, where it is now her turn to take poor kids in hand. She helps students from Mercer, McDowell, Summers, Monroe and Greenbrier counties to plan and prepare to succeed. They visit colleges and museums to broaden their minds and their world.

And as she stood there, explaining it to members of the Legislature, her program is turning away 10 kids to cut 5.2 percent of its budget because of federal sequestration.

Just the night before, across the river at the University of Charleston, Wil Haygood, author of "The Butler," told a packed auditorium he chooses book subjects because he feels some personal connection to them. One of his many works is a biography of former New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., son of a minister from Virginia and a woman from Kanawha County, and one of the people responsible for creating Upward Bound. Haygood was an Upward Bound kid in Ohio. He credits the program with whetting his appetite for a college education and speaks with gratitude about Powell.

And down the street on Wednesday, shortly after Shrader described the difficulties of poor families to the Legislature, about 25 people at the Kanawha County Public Library attended a panel discussion about homelessness. Homelessness has all kinds of factors, the panel said, but the number one cause: mental illness and substance abuse.

And then a little later, members of Kanawha County Communities that Care gathered at the South Charleston Public Library to catch each other up on progress on their anti-drug abuse activities. They represent health care, law enforcement, social services and neighborhoods all over the county.

What do all these snapshots from the week have in common?

Someone has made an effort.

For all the things that we profess to want in our campaign speeches, editorials and strategic plans -- a diverse economy, plenty of jobs, a healthy and educated populace, for example -- someone has to make an effort.

It takes a lot of people, actually, to decide that bringing up children who can read, write, compute and think critically is worthwhile. And then it takes time, money and energy everyday, year after year. That is how we all got here.

None of us who enjoy the benefits of education and employment got here all by ourselves, for all our hard work and dumb luck. Someone was behind each of us, probably a whole posse of people, saying, "You can do it," and "What do you need?" They were probably also saying, "Eat your vegetables," and "Be home by dark."

Fortunate kids get that at home. But not everyone is so fortunate. If a child starts further from the goal -- if a child is born drug addicted, for example, or is undernourished or is homeless, then we have to start there.

A familiar refrain you hear these days among the newly budget conscious, is that social programs don't work. Expenditures that don't work should be discontinued. But just because new people struggle does not mean that old efforts failed.

Wil Haygood is not poor. And neither is Sabrina Shrader. That is success. Not every kid will grow up to be a bestselling author and Hollywood producer. But not every kid needs to be. New schoolteachers, nurses, bus drivers, plumbers, welders, entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers would be considered successful outcomes.

Whatever produces that result deserves our time and treasure.

Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.


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