After Elizabeth Smart told the story and details she remembers of her abduction many years ago, she said she chose to embrace her life and move forward with a positive mindset despite the torture she endured.

Smart was abducted on June 5, 2002, at the age of 14. She told a Boone crowd on June 27 of how a man held a knife to her throat as she was taken from her home in Utah. She was sexually, physically and emotionally abused for nine months before she was found by law enforcement and returned to her family. The whole time she was missing, she was only four miles from her house.

Smart told her story to the crowd of 450 attendees who gathered at the Holmes Convocation Center for the Power of the Purse Luncheon hosted by the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge. Those in attendance heard from Smart as she spoke about the fear she had as she lived in a tent while she was held captive and told by her captor that she would be his new wife.

She was found after law enforcement approached her and her two captors on a public street in Utah. Soon after she was reunited with her family, and she talked about her healing process after the tragic event. She retold a conversation she had with her mother, who told her that the best punishment Smart could give to her captors was to live her life and be happy.

“I don’t think she meant that I would never have a bad day. I don’t think she meant that I would never feel frustration, anger or pain … ,” Smart said. “I think what she wanted me to remember was that this is my one chance at life. I think she wanted me to realize was that this happened to me, this wasn’t my fault and I didn’t deserve for it to happen, but I still have a choice. I can choose to let this rule me for the rest of my life, to stop me from being happy and prevent me from pursuing my goals and my dreams … or I can allow myself to go through the emotions and get to the other side of happiness and wellness.”

Through this experience, she has become an advocate for those who have experienced child abduction and sexual violence. She said she knows she is so much more than what has happened to her.

The luncheon raises funds that allows the WFBR to grant monetary awards to local charities and nonprofits. Karen Marinelli, executive director of the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge, said that last year’s POP luncheon raised $60,000. With more people in attendance this year than in years past, organizers were hoping to raise more for the cause. Marinelli told those in attendance that she had been with the WFBR for one year.

“One thing I learned real quick about this organization is that the women on the board, women on the advisory board and women on every single committee are passionate about this community,” Marinelli said. “They’re passionate about helping women and girls be the best they can be.”

Monica McDaniel, board chair of Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge, said many in the area remain in the shadows of prosperity.

“Many area residents don’t have access to safe, decent and affordable housing, well-balanced meals, much needed health and dental care or after-school programs to help build self-esteem and a desire to stay in school,” McDaniel said.

To help with this issue, McDaniel said the WFBR awards grants to nonprofits that deliver programs designed to help ensure that much needed human services are accessible to those in need.

“We are all part of this vital solution for breaking that cycle of poverty,” McDaniel said.

Jenny Miller, a WFBR board member, told the group of an example of someone who benefitted from the funding from Power of the Purse. She said funding had helped a woman in Watauga that had almost dropped out of high school because of a domestic abuse situation at home while she also tried raising a two-month-old-baby. WFBR funding helped the girl complete high school, pay for daycare services for the child and helped her to earn a degree from Appalachian State University.

To help other people like this woman, Miller said people could donate $10 a month to assist someone with a utility deposit in an apartment, $25 a month to help someone pay for gas in a vehicle, $50 a month to pay for childcare services or $100 a month to pay for tuition for higher education in N.C.

McDaniel thanked those in attendance for coming to the event, and said it was incredible to see strong women coming together for a united purpose.

“We all are better and are stronger when we come together as a force for good,” McDaniel said.

For more information on the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge, visit www.womensfundoftheblueridge.org.

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