GAINESVILLE - Elizabeth Smart, possibly the most well known survivor of child abduction for this generation, spoke as the keynote speaker for the Boys and Girls Club of Hall County annual Future for Kids Gala this evening.
At just 14 years old, Smart was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah, in early 2002 and was held captive until her rescue nine months later. She bravely testified against her captors and told the world her story; she published a memoir, "My Story" earlier this month.
"We all face different challenges in life, whether it's abuse, kidnapping, or maybe it's something completely different, maybe it's loss of job or loss of family," said Smart. "We all face problems, so it's important for all of us to have hope."
Smart spoke about her abduction, rescue and why she became an advocate for abduction survivors. She said she wanted everyone to know that they were irreplaceable, no matter what happened to them. "I want every person to know that you as an individual have a worth that can never be taken away from you no matter what you go through, no matter what happens to you, you are the only you, there's nobody else like you and if something happens to you, you can never be replaced," Smart said.
Smart said her loving family and community, as well as music, helped her recover from her abduction. "I want so much for survivors, and really just anyone who's going through a hard time to know that you have value, you have worth that can't be changed."
Smart also said she felt that the most important part of preventing child abuse, kidnappings and other serious situations was ensuring that children knew they could trust their parents and guardians. "The most important things we can do is start talking about it, letting our children know that it does exist and that they can always talk to you no matter what and you will always be on their side."
Smart signed copies of her memoir following the gala.
The Boys and Girls Club also honored Walt and Winkie Boomershine with the Helping Hands Award. The Boomershines played a critical role in the creation of the Georgia Council on Child Abuse in the 1970s, which later became Prevent Child Abuse Georgia. They also organize and build for Habitat for Humanity. The Boomershines have provided substantial financial support for the Boys and Girls Club of Hall County.