BISMARCK, Ill. (WCIA) — Elizabeth Smart spoke to teachers, counselors and school administrators in Vermilion County.
Smart, a kidnapping survivor and advocate for children who have been abducted, was the keynote speaker at the Vermilion County Institute Day.
“So many of you are the first line of defense for so many victims and survivors,” Smart said. “Each of you have such an impact on the people around you.”
In a 90-minute speech, Smart took the audience from what she called a sheltered childhood to her abduction and nine months in captivity and ultimately to her rescue and life today. Smart opened up about finding hope in dark times.
“You have to find your little piece of hope,” she said. “For me it was my family and knowing they always loved me.”
She talked about making the choice to be hopeful and optimistic.
“There are plenty of days that I’m not happy,” Smart said. “There are plenty of days that I’m overwhelmed and think life’s not fair and think a question we’ve all asked ourselves: Why me? I ask myself those questions and I imagine everyone else does.”
Smart said the educators and mental health professionals had such an important role helping victims and survivors.
“Thank you for choosing to do what you do,” Smart said. “Thank you for caring. Each of you have such an impact on the people around you.”
Westville counselor Johnnie Hull said she’s grateful Smart opened up about trauma.
“As a counselor in Vermilion County and as counselors in any school district, you will see firsthand survivor stories,” Hull said. “Her message of hope and forgiveness was something that I needed to hear and be reminded because some of the stories are dark.”
Oakwood Superintendent Larry Maynard called Smart courageous for sharing her story.
“We need to be aware that everyone does have that story,” he said.
After Smart’s speech, educators broke out into smaller groups for workshops focused on mental health.
“We take on the same emotion that our kids do,” Maynard said. “That can be a little frightening for adults, so I want to find out how we as administrators can support staff.”
“I’m proud that all of Vermilion County is pushing toward trauma awareness and bringing in survivors,” Hull said. “Their stories make people realize that they’re not alone and can survive this.”
Smart is the founder of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, and has also helped promote the National AMBER Alert, the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act and other safety legislation to help prevent abductions. In addition to writing “My Story” and “Where There’s Hope,” Smart and other abduction survivors have worked with the Justice Department to create a survivors guide called “You’re Not Alone: The Journey from Abduction to Empowerment.”