by Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
When I sat down with Alan Sader, ChildFund’s TV spokesperson, I’ll admit I was a tad star struck. When I was younger, I’d seen him on countless commercials—sitting on a stoop in a developing country, arm wrapped gently around a small child. His posture was strong, his voice was both kind and commanding and his message was always clear – by giving a little each month, I had the opportunity to help change a child’s life.
For the last 20 years, Sader has spoken on behalf of children around the world. By sharing their stories and encouraging a U.S. audience to become sponsors, Sader has helped many children escape poverty. In our conversation, he recalled several trips to ChildFund program areas and shared how each child he meets reminds him why his work is so important.
“I do plays, I do commercials for lawyers and furniture stores and that’s great for providing food for my family but there is a legacy involved in this work [with ChildFund],” he says. “Making the lives of children better is the most important and rewarding work I can ever do. There are a lot of children whose lives have been changed because of this and I am happy talking to people about that.”
In 1993, one year after his first appearance in a ChildFund commercial, Sader traveled to Kenya to work on a second TV spot. He met numerous children whose stories he would share with the world but one child in particular helped reaffirm his decision to work as ChildFund’s spokesperson.
“At the time, my youngest daughter was 6-weeks old,” he says. “During this particular trip, they placed a small child in my arms. I can remember thinking, a baby feels like a baby and that baby felt like my baby; and I knew they had the same needs. It felt so good to communicate that need to the camera, to share that with whoever could see the commercial and encourage them to react by helping a child.”
Although Sader realized that all children around the world had the same basic needs, he was exposed to a level of poverty unlike anything he had seen in the U.S. “There was a shocking quality of poverty in these places. I saw communities where entire families lived in shacks made of tin and paper to keep the weather out,” he says. “I had never seen up close and personal poverty. Although I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, and I knew that my family came from poor mountain folk on my mother’s side, I don’t think my people were ever starving, malnourished or lived in places where it was dangerous to drink the water.”
He explains that his firsthand experiences in some of the most impoverished countries have been humbling and serve as a continuous reminder to help those who are less fortunate. So he has taken his own message to heart. Since 1992, Sader has sponsored two children through ChildFund – a girl from Brazil and a boy from Kenya. Both youth are approaching an age where they will complete ChildFund’s program, but Sader knows his support will have a long-lasting effect.
“I’ve met them both,” he says. “The young woman has special needs but is able to do things that make her feel included and worthwhile – when I hear from her (most letters come from her family), she is very happy. And Arnold started a business at a young age because he was able to buy rabbits using a monetary gift I sent him – so he tells me about his rabbits in his letters. I keep in touch with his father as well.”
Parents, especially mothers, play an important role in the communities Sader has visited. “ChildFund projects depend on the involvement of the local people,” he says. “I’ve seen them involve the whole community. It is amazing to see the mothers cook, clean, and make money at the markets and then volunteer to help their children have a better life.”
It’s this behind-the-scenes perspective that has motivated Sader to continue his role as ChildFund’s TV spokesperson. “I am continually impressed by this organization,” he says. “ChildFund is not run by some expert sitting back making all the decisions. It is a collaborative effort between the country, who knows what is best for their people and folks who want to help here at the home office.”
Home is Richmond, Va., to both ChildFund and Sader. And when he’s not dropping into headquarters to plan his next filming schedule, you can find him doing what he does best. “I’ve been acting since I was a child,” he says. “It wasn’t until much later I decided to make a career of it.”
Sader is well known in Richmond theater circles. Last year he played King Lear, a role that won him best actor from Richmond Critics’ Circle and also played the role of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His latest work was on the motion picture, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg
“I will continue to do theater and movies as opportunities present themselves,” he says. “And I hope to continue to do commercials and represent ChildFund as well. My wife is an artist, my oldest daughter is married and my youngest is a junior at Virginia Tech – so life is good.”
I expected to hear nothing less from a man who uses his talents to change lives around the world.