OAK HILL, W.Va. -- Kimberly Goodwin Shrewsbury, 55, of Red Star, walked with difficulty toward the middle of a room full of people Wednesday night. Supported physically and emotionally by her teenage daughter, she spoke into the microphone handed to her: "I have been without heat for three weeks."
Outside the Historic Oak Hill School, steady snowfall covered the packed parking lot. Inside, people with and without warm homes sat and stood in an awkward and respectful silence as she went on.
"I have no money to fix it. I feel like I've let my kids down. I can't cook, clean, wash clothes or anything because I have no money to do this."
She and about 100 people squeezed into an old school cafeteria, now the Historic School Café, to speak to members of the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty. It is the first committee meeting outside of Charleston during the legislative session in anyone's memory.
For two hours, committee Chairman John Unger, D-Berkeley; and members Ron Stollings, D-Boone; Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier; Bill Laird, D-Fayette; and Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, listened to residents of the 10th District describe conditions that conspire to keep children poor:
• When people suffer disabling injuries, there is no rehabilitation. There is no retraining for a new job. People may collect a disability check, but it's little wonder people turn to drugs and alcohol in their depression.
• Drug and alcohol dependence become their own disabilities.
• Children see parents not working or unable to work. They think that is how society is supposed to be. They see no reason to go to school or graduate and work toward jobs.
• Children come to the Southern Appalachian Labor School for tutoring. Children from some schools come with textbooks. But children from other schools are not sent home with textbooks. The attitude there is that those children will just lose the books or throw them away.
• Children are sent home with work to do on CDs or DVDs, even if they have no devices to use such tools.
• One child, a girl with a 3.7 grade point average, was tired of having no food and no water, so she called Child Protective Services herself. The CPS worker asked her where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. When the child said she wanted to go to WVU to study medicine, the worker told her to "get real."
• For students who do graduate from high school and want to go further in education, there is not enough financial help. Students are wary of taking on debt they won't be able to repay or embarking on a degree or trade program if they don't know how they will pay from the start.
• Money for school field trips is important to rural and poor students. A trip from Oak Hill to Charleston can be the first time some students see anywhere outside their county.