When Sunita Schroader came home from India at 3 years old, it quickly became apparent that she was learning challenged. Through hard work and perseverance, however, Sunita successfully overcame the challenges she faced — graduating high school as a member of the Class of 2014. Last year, she was also featured on stage at a Winter Jam concert as a once-Holt sponsored child, now a thriving young woman poised for success.
She cried the first time she saw us. That day, as a 3-year-old at Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra (BSSK), Holt’s partner organization in Pune, India, she understood enough to know her life was about to change. It was my birthday, and my husband had told someone. So they prepared a card for her to give to me. She was coaxed into handing it to this strange woman with blonde hair, and so began a new life for each of us. We brought her home to join our family — with two bio sons — and a life of love in a modest home in western Kentucky.
Though small for her age, she had no apparent special needs and functioned normally for her age. She quickly took to the language, and life with her brothers, on the ride home from the airport. It wasn’t until a few weeks after coming home that we saw some learning hurdles emerge. Most every day, she and I would sit on the floor with alphabet flash cards. I remember her doing pretty well until the day we got to the letter “s.” She just could not remember it. Couldn’t for days. It was as if 18 letters were all she could learn. Since her first and last name begins with “s,” this was going to be a problem. Other blocks showed up once she started school. In first grade, she once raised her hand and asked how to spell a word… during the spelling test. This gave us all a chuckle at the time!
Each of her teachers had to discover how to help her learn. Math was hard for her, and it seemed to always change about the time she was beginning to grasp it. At the end of sixth grade, our Christian school — where she was loved and celebrated — felt it best for her to go to the local public school where help could be tailored to her needs. This was devastating to us, and especially to her. Many tears were shed those first few days of seventh grade. She had much success with the slower pace, but every day was still hard. For the next six years, the school made modifications for her but she remained in regular classes. Sometimes, she would take her test apart from the other students to help her focus. She never liked being singled out this way, so she stopped by high school.
We learned that studying out loud helped her pass a test. I regularly emailed her teachers with requests about assignments, and gave much appreciation for their extra effort. Through her diligent work in high school — spending many hours on homework — she has developed a quality of character that the average 19-year-old doesn’t have. She didn’t always enjoy the schoolwork, but she stayed at it! Twice we have been told Sunita functions above her ability when it comes to academics. I’ve always wondered how you test for that, but I believe this is because of her hard work, and support from her family. We saw her be diligent in all areas of her life, from studies to music to archery and many more.
Being different is hard. Especially in high schoolwhere being just like everyone else is the common goal. Sunita is different in so many ways. She’s adopted. She is from India. She is small (4 feet 9 inches on a good day), learning challenged and a Christian. All of these things made it hard for her to connect with those around her. But her infectious smile and kind heart made her popular with the teachers and staff. Although there was nothing easy about high school for her, Sunita’s perseverance level is high, and with her hard work and determination — plus lots of pushing from her mom — she graduated! On May 31, 2014, with diploma in hand, she celebrated like never before, with arms held high and the biggest smile ever, and relaxed into her success. She hopes to go to college in a year or so, and one day return to India for a visit.
A few years ago, we received a request from Holt for Winter Jam volunteers to help sign up new child sponsors, and Sunita agreed to volunteer. She was going to the concert anyway with her youth group and this would give her a connection to the agency that cared for her during her very early years. She loved being an adoptee in the Holt booth, sharing info about children needing sponsors! THEN this past winter, while volunteering once again at Winter Jam, she was asked to come on stage while the plea for sponsorship was made. To a sold-out crowd of 10,000.
With a promise that she wouldn’t have to say anything, she agreed. And then she ran to call her momma! You see, just before she left for the concert, I hugged her and told her something I had never said to her before. “Shine for Jesus tonight” was how I sent her out the door. And did she ever. Now of course, she was terrified and could hardly speak when the promise was broken and the mic was turned her way. But it was worth it to Sunita.
“I love going to Winter Jam and enjoy helping at the Holt table!” Sunita says. “It is always a blessing to me. I like telling the people that I was born in India and a Holt-sponsored child. It makes me feel good to see the people pick a child to sponsor.”
And later at the sponsorship table, where Sunita stood to help sign up new sponsors, many of the concertgoers gave her nice feedback and — inspired by her story — made promises to sponsor a child.
And she felt special in all the right ways.
Sara Schroader | Owensboro, Kentucky
Volunteer for Holt at Winter Jam! The East Coast tour kicks off January 2. Click here to see dates and locations and sign up to volunteer in a city near you!