Teen is empowered to help prevent sexual assault

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WEATHERBY LAKE, Mo. -- In our Reaching 4 Excellence young achiever segment this week, we have discovered one of the more remarkable state championship student projects we've ever come across. And as we did, we also discovered an inspiring story of survival, recovery and empowerment.

A year ago, Amanda Swift says, she could not have imagined herself having the courage and confidence to go up to strangers outside a store and start talking to them about a difficult and heartbreaking topic.

"We're trying to raise awareness about rape and sexual assault in children," Amanda Swift says to one shopper after another. Now Amanda does this sort of thing regularly and also does presentations at schools and to community groups.

"I feel like I'm empowering people that don't have a voice to speak up and talk about things that they wouldn't necessarily talk about," says Amanda. "And they know that help is there if they need it." It's part of a sexual assault prevention and public awareness project Amanda created a few months ago that she calls Empower the Innocent.

"This whole process has made me a stronger person," says Amanda. "And I'm able to talk to people about things that other people can't talk to you about." Because it happened to Amanda. A trusted adult sexually abused her when she was a small child. After years of silence about what happened to her, Amanda has found her own power and her voice in crafting this project.

"I feel really proud," says Amanda. "I feel like I can look at that and say, 'Hey, I did that. And I'm helping people and I'm not just letting this take over my life. I'm going to do something about it.'" The catalyst for Amanda's Empower the Innocent campaign was her involvement in a national student leadership organization called FCCLA -- Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

"A very edgy topic but something that needs to be talked about," says Jacinda Manka, Amanda's Family and Consumer Science teacher and FCCLA advisor at West Platte High School in Weston, Missouri. Amanda just finished her senior year there.

"And I told her it was a great topic," says Manka, "but we need to make sure you have a comfort level with it because once it kind of gets started, you need to feel comfortable in being able to share some of your personal stories and some of your awareness issues." Manka marveled as Amanda dove in.

"In the past year, she has just made amazing strides," says Manka. And with single-minded determination, Amanda turned her ideas into an FCCLA Missouri state Gold Award peer education project in the Applied Technology category, utilizing the expertise in the organization's Stop the Violence program.

"There's a lot of pieces," says Manka of Amanda and her project. "Research. Planning. Follow-through. Being able to get out and interact with people. That personal contact that she has. She is not afraid to talk to strangers. But then, when we go to competitions, she has been able to deliver all those pieces and really tell the judges from start to finish what she did." Now as Amanda and her mom keep making teal-colored ribbons with the message, "I Won't Be Silent!" for her campaign, she will take her project to the FCCLA national conference in Nashville, TN next month, eager to get her message of empowerment to a much larger audience. Amanda says it will be nice if she wins an award there, too, but that's not why she's doing this.

"I feel like if I can just help one person then what happened to me isn't going to be so bad," says Amanda. Empowered, with a very strong voice.

Amanda's ultimate goal is to get her program into schools everywhere-- adapting it to different age groups so children and teenagers will have the information they need to be aware and protect themselves. Meantime, part of Amanda's project involves raising money for organizations that work with children and teens struggling to recover from abuse or dealing with emotional or behavioral problems. Right now she's collecting to make a donation to the Missouri Division of Youth Services Watkins Mill Youth Camp in Lawson just north of the metro area. If you want to join her in that effort and donate to the camp, send contributions to Watkins Mill Youth Camp, c/o Liaison Council, 25610 Park Road North, Lawson , MO 64062.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.

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