Last Christmas, Robert Schrader knew the perfect gift for his four children: himself.
He dutifully placed himself in a large box and waited about an hour before the fateful moment.
“We had a little hole that I could see there. I think I was more excited than them,” Schrader said. “As soon as they opened the box and it was taken from me, my 12 year old hugged me for five minutes, the two boys hugged me and my daughter was really confused about what was going on .”
It was the first time Schrader’s children had seen him since August.
For the past six months, Schrader has traveled the country to raise funds and awareness about child abuse. Beginning on July 4 at the Golden Gate Bridge, he walked from California to New York, ending his journey on December 23 at the Statue of Liberty.
He spent most of the trip pushing a cart along the highway. A sign attached to the cart advertised its mission, raising funds for a new facility in Bakersfield dedicated to mentoring and helping parents and children affected by abuse.
The trip was difficult for his family, who had to make do with phone calls during Schrader’s absence, but his wife, Nila Hogan, said the children eventually put down roots for their father.
“They were like, ‘It’s okay, daddy’s out to stop the child abuse,'” she said. “Once they realized why he was gone, it was a proud moment for them. It was like, ‘Oh wow, my dad is fighting for this.'”
Schrader and Hogan run the nonprofit Y-Empowerment, which has an office in downtown Bakersfield. The nonprofit organization offers supervised family visits, as well as classes on parenting, anger management and sexual abuse prevention.
They hope to grow with the money raised from this hike and other future fundraising efforts to provide more mentoring and counseling services to child victims of abuse.
“Robbie has his own experience in dealing with child abuse, so it’s something close to his heart,” Hogan added. “One day he came to me and said, ‘I want to walk across the United States.’ And I was like, ‘OK,’ and from there it just grew.
According to the Kern County Network for Children, 15,079 children were suspected of being abused or neglected in Kern County in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. An average of eight children each day were subsequently discovered to be victims of abuse and neglect.
The same study indicates that approximately 30% of abused or neglected children will later abuse their own children.
“We’re trying to stop this cycle so it doesn’t continue in the future,” Schrader said. “Our plan to bring down the stats in Kern County.”
During his trip, Schrader said survivors of abuse saw his sign and approached him to share their stories, giving Schrader strength for the long road ahead. The trip raised $20,877 in donations, which will go towards building a new facility, which is still in the planning stages.
He plans to keep the momentum going to raise even more money and awareness for the cause. He said he now wanted to sit on a pole for seven days in an effort to generate publicity.
“I don’t want the march to end in New York. It will continue,” he added. “I think if we do this right, we can bring Kern County together a little more as a community for a good cause.”
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You can also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.