LAFAYETTE — Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart will share her story of survival and hope with Lafayette residents May 2 as part of an educational outreach by Hearts of Hope, an advocacy and counseling center for children and sexual assault victims.
Smart was 14 when she was abducted June 5, 2002, from her Salt Lake City home. She endured rape and other abuses until she was discovered March 12, 2003, in Sandy, Utah, and reunited with her family.
“Miraculously, she was returned safely home, which is so rare to have a survivor to come forward and tell about their experience and how they overcame it. I can’t find the words to say how rare that is,” said Jill Dugas, executive director of Hearts of Hope.
Dugas said her organization hopes the talk will help others.
“We’re educating the community in hopes of telling them how to protect themselves, what to look for, the hope that comes with healing in overcoming traumatic experiences,” Dugas said.
Smart’s talk at 6:30 p.m. May 2 at Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette is a fundraiser for the nonprofit center with proceeds benefiting its three programs — the Children’s Advocacy Center, the Sexual Abuse Response Center and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.
“We’ve got 1,000 seats in this place that we’re trying to fill. If we can reach 1,000 people, that’s more than we would for a little fundraiser,” Dugas said.
The educational outreach will continue Oct. 17 with a talk by Beth Holloway, the mother of Natalee Holloway, who was 18 when she disappeared in 2005 during a senior trip to Aruba. An Alabama judge declared the teen legally dead last year.
Both speakers know about the statistics of abductions, said Natalie Johnson, Hearts of Hope marketing and events coordinator.
“Unfortunately, 90 percent of the time with abductions of this nature, people do not survive,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity for people just to listen to some precautions and extra steps that they can take in being safe.”
Hearts of Hope provides counseling and advocacy services, and in 2012, the nonprofit center met the needs of nearly 700 children younger than 18 and nearly 1,000 sexual assault victims, Johnson said.
Smart testified against her abductors, which led to the life sentence of Brian David Mitchell for kidnapping and the unlawful transportation of a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity and 15 years in prison for Wanda Barzee for kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor.
Smart has used her experience to advocate for legislation related to child abduction and abuse and created a foundation to support her outreach and educational efforts.
Dugas said Smart will take questions from the audience following her talk. She said Savior’s Church, 1201 E. Broussard Road, in Lafayette was selected because the church donated the use of the space, and it also provides a “warm and intimate” setting for Smart’s talk and for the public to feel comfortable asking the young woman questions.
Tickets are available online at http://www.theheartsofhope.org. For information about the event or sponsorship opportunities, contact Natalie Johnson at (337) 269-1557.