Jaycee Dugard, founder and president of The JAYC Foundation, speaks to members of the Legion's Americanism Commission during the 97th National Convention in Baltimore on Aug. 29. Photo by Clay Lomneth.

A foundation of healing, reconnection

The abduction of then-11-year-old Jaycee Dugard 24 years ago from a bus stop in Lake Tahoe, Calif., still resonates in the minds of many. After 18 years of enduring physical and emotional abuse, Dugard was released from her captors and reunited with her family in 2009.

The process of reconnecting with her family and healing from her past led Dugard to create The JAYC (Just Ask Yourself to Care) Foundation to help other families heal and reconnect that endured abduction or other traumatic experiences, such as military deployment.

Dugard spoke to members of The American Legion’s Americanism Commission Aug. 29 during the organization’s 97th National Convention in Baltimore about the foundation and how Legionnaires can support its programs.

Q: What is The JAYC Foundation's mission?

A: In 1991, I was abducted walking to the bus to school. I was 11 years old. When I was recovered from my captors 18 years later, my family needed help with reconnecting. It took an extensive, multi-disciplinary approach to get through a very difficult time of transition in our lives. We needed protection, expertise, support and choices. I believe families that go through trauma such as mine need the kind of support we received. Since then my family has formed The JAYC Foundation. The foundation provides funding for services to families that are victims of violence, abduction, unwanted separation and military deployment, so that they too can be helped through their transition and their journey toward reconnection. Our message is Just Ask Yourself to Care! A simple act of kindness and caring does wonders for families going through a tough period in their lives so that they can move forward and have a more rich and rewarding life.

Q: How do the foundation's programs help families and children?

A: I am very proud of each of the programs that the foundation offers. The reunification workshops are for families post trauma to help them by creating a protected space in which the family members can heal and reconnect with each other in a safe and stimulating environment. We combine traditional therapeutic techniques with experiential activities that enable the families to relax even while dealing with tough topics.

My little sister inspired our program for school children. I learned that she was bullied and teased after I was kidnapped, which shocked me and made me sad. Children struggle to understand unusual situations like mine that are beyond (and should be) their level of experience. They can hurt each other when they are scared. That’s why I wanted to create the JAYC School Groups. It stands for “Just Ask Yourself to Care!” We use a theme of “cow culture,” which is based on a time in history when people were highly interconnected by the bond of honesty. It was a time when keeping one’s word was a fundamental part of survival. Our curriculum focuses on caring, safety, instinct, integrity, attunement, responsibility, compassion, respect, empathy, awareness and teamwork. Currently, JAYC groups are occurring in California, Indiana and Alabama.

Another focus of the foundation is providing awareness development training workshops for law enforcement officers. The purpose is to enhance the protection and the experience of victims through the cultivation of awareness-based law enforcement practices. We believe law enforcement, including probation officers, can benefit from slowing down and reminding themselves that self-care, awareness and just plain common sense can change the outcome of their work. Our workshops focus on communication, teamwork, self-care and, above all, attunement and intuition. This program is important to me because I think we can all learn from mistakes made in my case, especially the delay of 18 years before my recovery and how I was treated upon recovery.

Q: How is the foundation working with military families?

A: We work with families of returning veterans, with a focus on reunification and helping their spouses and children understand and respond to the specialized needs of the veterans. During deployment, all the responsibility lies with the parent at home. After return, the military member struggles not only with what they have experienced while deployed, but with the adjustment to a different and evolving role in the family and the community. We utilize equine-assisted therapy as a tool for understanding subtle behavioral cues. Other activities of daily living are included to reintegrate the returning family member. We were also very excited to support the education and training of professional coaches who are assisting returning veterans.

We hope to provide services for more military families in the coming year. Our focus is to provide a protected space for a successful family reintegration, or a space for families to sort out emotions and grief related to the loss of a fallen soldier.

Q: What positive impact has the foundation had so far that you are most proud of?

A: The most important impact of the foundation's work is knowing that families have left our program with renewed hope, reconnection and understanding of their journey toward recovery. I too heal a little more with each family we are able to help. I am very proud of all the work of our team, and appreciate the generous donations we have received over the years. Caring costs so little but has such a big impact on the course of each family's recovery.

We have just completed a brochure titled “Creating Protected Spaces for Children and Families in Transition.” This publication was made possible by a generous grant from The American Legion’s Child Welfare Foundation. We know the brochure contains valuable and essential information for families and individuals who have suffered a major trauma. It also provides invaluable information for community entities that can work collaboratively to help these families. I am so proud of this booklet and the tremendous hours put into researching, creating and distributing it across the country.

We have seen remarkable healing in families post trauma. A recent case involved a family of a young boy who had been murdered. Providing a protected space for the family to begin to heal and sort out their emotions reminded me of how important this work is to the families we serve. At the JAYC Foundation we believe in healing the family from within by utilizing and highlighting their existing strengths.

I am also proud of the law enforcement officer programs that provide another example of the gratifying work we do. A group, including my mom, presented a workshop in Kansas City. The first year was so well attended that we returned for a second year. During our second year, two officers told my mom that my story and her words had stayed with them the previous year. This led them to be persistent enough to trust their instincts and return to a house where a young child was captive in the basement. They credited the team's presentation for their success. We reminded them that it was their own intuition and courage that deserved the credit.

I am also proud to have such a caring and loving family, and a team of friends that do such great work for The JAYC Foundation. Without them none of this would be possible.

Q: How can American Legion members support the foundation?

A: My sister Shayna and her husband Garrett run our mail order business on the website that includes our official JAYC T-shirts, tank tops and necklaces with our pinecone symbol (the last piece of freedom she felt before being abducted). All proceeds go to the foundation.

Please support our work knowing that we can help the families of those who serve.