A member of the Kennedy family will come to Wheeling this week on West Virginia's 150th birthday to honor the state's place in Kennedy family history and discuss the need to eliminate child poverty in West Virginia, state Senate President Jeff Kessler announced.
Mark Kennedy Shriver serves as senior vice president for Strategic Initiatives and as senior adviser to the chief executive at Save the Children. He will speak during an intermission at the West Virginia Day concert at Heritage Port on Thursday evening.
Shriver is the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the organization that became the Special Olympics.
His father, Sargent Shriver, was the Democrat vice presidential nominee in 1972 and helped to create the Peace Corps.
Shriver also is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, who won the Democrat nomination for president in 1960 after defeating Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia - a win that many presidential historians believe put Kennedy in the White House.
"He's coming in to help West Virginia celebrate its 150th and to bring special recognition to the state from the Kennedy family," Kessler said. "West Virginia was the one to put Kennedy over the top to make him president, and this year also marks the 50th anniversary of his death. West Virginia catapulted him into the presidency, and it is significant a member of the Kennedy clan is willing to return."
Kessler said he met Shriver in January 2010 when Shriver accompanied actress and West Virginia native Jennifer Garner to Charleston to attend then-Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address. Garner is the celebrity spokeswoman for Save the Children.
It was during this address that it was announced West Virginia was pledging $1 million to Save the Children programs in the state and would, in turn, receive $3 million in matching funds from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help fight childhood poverty.
The program has focused on literacy and anti-poverty initiatives in rural areas of the state.
Kessler said state officials estimate 25.7 percent of children in West Virginia live in poverty.
"Literacy and poverty go hand in hand," he noted. "If we reduce the illiteracy rate in West Virginia - especially with children - it gives them a chance to prosper."
Kessler added he met up with Shriver again last year at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
"He remembered meeting me before, and we have a lot of mutual interests in combating poverty," he said of Shriver.
Since Kennedy's win in West Virginia that launched him toward the presidency, the Kennedy family has had a fondness for establishing programs in West Virginia that address the state's problems, such as obesity and illiteracy, according to Kessler.
"If you can't read and write, you do not have much chance for success," he said. "This results in higher high school dropout rates, more teen pregnancies and more inmates within our penal system. It compounds everything."