Elizabeth Smart speaks at New Beginnings event

September 1, 2019 | 3:30 am

Updated September 1, 2019 | 7:33 am

Photo by Marcus Velez

New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services presented “Vision for Change: An Evening with Elizabeth Smart” at the Owensboro Convention Center Saturday night to bring awareness to their mission. New Beginnings works with men, women and children to rise above sexual victimization. Their services include confidential counseling free of charge.

The event opened with emcee Chad Benningfield welcoming guests and New Beginnings Executive Director Karla Ward offering the invocation. Elizabeth Smart, the keynote speaker, known as the survivor of one of the most followed child abduction cases in the nation, offered a message of hope and healing.

“Coming to events like tonight gives me hope,” Smart said in her opening. “It makes me think there are whole communities who are working together to create a safer environment for our kids. It helps me believe that there are more good people than not.”

Smart retold the story of her captors threatening to kill her and her family if she did not do what they demanded. After nine months of unthinkable abuse and torture, Smart was miraculously reunited with her family. She described the feeling as everything that had been taken away from her was being given back to her. She encouraged the community to keep supporting the cause so that others like her can find happiness again.

“People like those who work at New Beginnings keep coming back day after day to help turn each victim into a survivor,” Smart said.

Last year alone, New Beginnings, who serves Owensboro and seven surrounding counties, received 389 crisis calls. According to Ward, the main objective of the event was to raise awareness. She feels the evening was a huge success.

“It exceeded our expectations,” she said. “Our speaker brought a great message of hope to survivors. I just hope that people took something away from it.”

The program concluded with Smart answering questions from the audience during a panel session and Mayor Tom Watson presenting her with a key to the city. He told her that she is welcome back to Owensboro any time. The entire room rose to their feet, showing Smart gratitude for such an inspirational message.

Board Chair Brad Youngman said that all funds raised will go directly to programs to support survivors in this community and the surrounding areas. Much of what they receive at New Beginnings is grant and donor based. According to him, the staff works hard to secure state and national grants.

“I was really impressed with how it went tonight; I really didn’t know what to expect,” Youngman said. “To bring Elizabeth Smart here; she’s well known. But we also have similar situations right here at home.”

New Beginnings believes that an important part of their mission is to educate the community from professionals to students across grade levels about sexual assault and prevention. To continue raising funds and awareness, they will host their annual casino night fundraiser at The Hines Center on Feb. 22, 2020.

“I am thrilled that I could be here tonight,” Smart said. “Everything I’ve learned about New Beginnings is why I go out and continue to do what I do. You should never give up on being happy again.”

September 1, 2019 | 3:30 am

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