Family Compass’ 2022 North Star Luncheon’s VIP reception sponsored by Mary Bowman Campbell got underway in the Dallas Country Club’s Founders Room at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 25. Everyone was able to have time talking to featured speaker Elizabeth Smart. Over the years the young girl, who had attracted national attention for being kidnapped from her bedroom and held captive for months, went on to be married, have three children and become an articulate and composed young woman.
In the meantime, the DCC ballroom lobby had been transformed into a city square with newsstands filled with North Star Newspapers serving as the registration desk and a coffee pop-up shop with cup wrappers bearing messages like “Write your own narrative.” Over at the Fresh Flower stand were bowls of flowers. For $75, the arrangement could be delivered to guests’ tables to serve as a centerpiece and then be taken home.
The doors to the ballroom opened at 11 to a stage with a podium and two easy chairs against a backdrop of newspaper pages and a banner headline, “Write your own narrative.”
Slowly the crowd including Pam Busbee, Suzy Gekiere, Christie Carter, Kathleen LaValle, Dianne LaRoe, Karen Shuford, Connie O’Neill, Tucker Enthoven, Candace Winslow, Ida and Gerald Deats, Mark Holmes, Patrick Brown and Robert Walne moved into the ballroom for the 11:30 start with a video followed by emcee Shelly Slater welcoming the guests and reporting that she had postponed an anniversary trip to be part of the event.
Like others during the pandemic, Shelly told how the space that she and her sister had provided clients was transformed to be used by non-profits free of charge. One of the first area charities that she reached out with the offer had been Family Compass.
Luncheon Co-Chair Erin Pope took her place at the podium, telling the group how during the pandemic children had risen making this 30th anniversary year of Family Compass more important than ever.
While Erin’s Co-Chair Toni McReynolds was out of town, she spoke to the group via video and was followed by Presenting Sponsor North Dallas Bank And Trust President/CEO Larry Miller and Honorary Chair Sarah Losinger.
Family Compass CEO Ona Foster reminded the guests that Family Compass is the largest group in North Texas dealing with child abuse and neglect, recognized some of its founders and presented the North Star Award t the Richardson/Plano Kappa Delta Alumnae Chapter.
After telling a story about her own adoptive father, Ona explained how the three reasons for child abuse and neglect in a home are:
- Level of stress in the household
- How the parents were raised
- Living conditions and environment
Since numbers prove results, it was pointed out that last year, Family Compass “kept 597 children out of the child welfare system and saved the community $496M.” To address each case of child abuse and neglect, it costs approximately $831K.
It was then time for Shelly and Elizabeth to take their places on stage for a chat with the following highlights:
- Being open about her kidnapping and abuse — “I couldn’t change what happened and decided it didn’t matter enough to keep it a secret. I could choose to do something for the better or run away for life.”
- It’s common not to speak up.
- From the moment she was taken from her bed, her violation started. Then there was abuse, rape and threats against her family by her captor.
- Why she didn’t reach out to police when they first approached her — “Nine months was a long time and I didn’t know what the police could do. Why would they believe me over the two adults?”
- Her parents taught her that God was kind and gentle. These two peoples’ god was not kind or gentle. They were bad people. A kind and loving God would not allow this [to happen].
- She was held just 3½ miles from her home and could hear the helicopters overhead and heard her name called out.
- She was never left alone. Despite all the outreach, her captors said, “We have you” and god was protecting them.
- Her mother had never let her feel sorry for herself. When her grandmother suffered a devastating fall, Elizabeth asked her mom if it wasn’t enough (suffering for the family). Her mother’s response was, “You just have to keep going.”
- There are not things like inquiries that set her off. “I haven’t come across anything. If it does, I try to remove myself from the situation or change the situation.”
- During her last pregnancy, she suffered an episode where she “couldn’t communicate and was rushed to the hospital.” Nothing showed up until a brain scan revealed scarring on the brain similar to a 100-year-old woman or an NFL football player. Realizing that neither applied to Elizabeth, they added that “extreme trauma could create such a situation.”
- When she was first rescued she was initially interviewed by two middle-aged, male psychiatrists with religious undercurrents. They were asking intimate details about her abuse that she didn’t want to answer. She thought all therapy was like this interrogation. “As an adult I realize that therapy only gives you the tools to deal with the problem.”
- Her parents went through therapy. “I believe 100% in self care.” As a parent, she appreciates what her parents went through.
- It’s been 19 years since she was rescued.
- How does she feel when someone comes up and thanks her for being open about her experience? “It’s been humbling because I didn’t realize how many people cared for me and/or were inspired by me to share their story.”
- She admits that she’s usually in sweats and at times a “hot mess.”
- In closing she told the group three things to remember:
- “I’m not the only survivor. We all have a story. You’re all special; you’re unique and have something to offer.”
- “There’s nothing that anyone else can do to you that takes away your value.”
- “Whatever happens to you, it doesn’t define who you are. They may alter your life or change your direction, but they don’t define who you are.”