Grace McAllister, 15, of Nettleton, Miss., a member of Monroe County 4-H and a freshman at Nettleton High School, has collected and donated more than 1,000 new stuffed animals to comfort children traumatized by sexual abuse and let them know that they are not alone. Grace knows firsthand the immeasurable pain of being abused by a person she trusted. “Being a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of my own father, the one person who should protect me, not hurt me, I decided I wanted to help other victims,” Grace said.
Grace was abused from the age of 6 until, at 10 years old, she found the courage to tell her stepmother what was happening. What followed were months of interviews, counselors, lawyer visits, court appearances and the disbelief of some family members, she said. She felt nobody understood. So, Grace created a YouTube video to tell her story and encourage others to “break the silence.” It’s been viewed more than 40,000 times. She then contacted a local Family Resource Center with a proposal to provide stuffed animals to young abuse victims. She held collection drives through her Facebook page, raffled off a huge teddy bear to raise money, and partnered with local businesses to collect stuffed animals. She also started an “ambassador” program to encourage children in other states to collect stuffed animals for their local resource centers. “I have gained the knowledge that I am a survivor, not a victim,” said Grace. “I have seen that small tokens of love and hope can make a difference. I have gained back myself from volunteering.”