University of Miami - Bachelor’s Degree, Elementary Education and Creative Writing
University of Miami – Master’s Degree, Community Psychology and Social Change + Nonprofit Development
One in three girls and one in five boys will become a victim of child sexual abuse before his or her 18th birthday. While it’s a fact that’s shocking, tragic and uncomfortable, it’s also something Lauren Book insists people need to know. A victim of sexual abuse, Lauren realized through her own process of healing that creating awareness could incite change. “It’s all about beginning that conversation,” says Lauren, “and not being afraid to talk about boundaries.”
That simple idea behind a not-so-simple topic led Lauren to found Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit based in South Florida that educates children and adults about sexual abuse prevention through in-school curricula, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements. Currently utilized in 16,000 classrooms, Lauren’s Safer Smarter Kids program is just the start; she’s also published a book, influenced change in Florida law and even walked 500 miles with her mission in mind. Sound like a lot? Let’s just say there is a reason Lauren was selected as one of Cosmopolitan’s “Fun, Fearless Females.” Read on to see why we think that title describes this change-maker to a T.
Never let anyone see you sweat, but also work harder than anyone else in the room.
You have an incredibly impactful story to share with many accomplishments along the way. Could you share with our readers how you founded Lauren’s Kids?
The Lauren’s Kids Foundation really came about because of a truly horrific experience I endured as a young child. I was sexually abused from the time I was 11 years old until I was 16 at the hands of my female live-in nanny. Through that and through my own healing, I came to a point where I felt it was important that we let people know that one in three girls and one in five boys will become a victim of childhood sexual abuse before the age of 18.
To me there was a prevailing thought out there that childhood sexual abuse happened to those kids over there who looked that way, and I wanted people to know that that was simply not the case. Childhood sexual abuse cuts across all socioeconomic backgrounds, all cultures and all religions. The greatest risk factor of being a childhood sexual abuse victim is being a child. And, I think we all believe and know that it shouldn’t hurt to be a child, but all too often it does. It was important for me to share my journey, help others heal and know that no matter what happens to you, you can overcome and become a thriving survivor, which is really how Lauren’s Kids was born.
We began the foundation as a hotline, because we believed we wanted to help people reach out. We came to find out very, very quickly that people weren’t calling. So, we decided to make a shift. At the time, I was going to school and learned that 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable with education and awareness. So, I really decided to use my master’s degree and my bachelor’s degree in elementary education and creative writing and create a curriculum. That’s how Safer, Smarter Kids was born. We are currently in more than 16,000 classrooms for kindergarten and Pre-K all throughout the state of Florida. We have a pilot program in the Bronx in New York, and we’re rolling out our first third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, middle school and high school curriculum in the next two years. It’s all about staying safe and being empowered to use our voice to stay safe.
How has founding Lauren’s Kids help you grow and become the impactful Leading Lady you are today?
When I get discouraged, tired or hit a wall, it’s the survivors I meet along the way who really encourage me. Personally, I derive a lot of my power and passion from the darker places in my life, and I don’t run from them. I just use them as fuel to continue on and keep going. We do get a lot of no’s and we do get a lot of doors slammed in our face. It’s just a tough topic for people to look at. People are still afraid of what childhood sexual abuse is and means, and so they don’t want to look at it.
There is no greater example of that then Lauren’s Kingdom. I wrote Lauren’s Kingdom back in 2007, when we founded the organization. We had been pushing Lauren’s Kingdom to everybody we had met, and everybody loved it. But, were too afraid to take a chance, because it was a special topic book. I would hear, “Write your memoir, and then the children’s book will be easier to move forward.”
It wasn’t until we wouldn’t take no for an answer that we met with some incredible partners of ours at Books-A-Million. They agreed to publish the book. Now, with that book having launched on March 9, it’s another example of never taking “no” for an answer. If you get a no, then you’re asking the wrong person. Never be discouraged. Keep on driving until you get what is important to you. Make it happen.
How have you grown the “Walk in My Shoes” event you host?
The walk has become an incredible journey all on its own. I think we’ve been able to grow because we’ve harnessed and given the journey to the survivors themselves. When I started the walk, I thought it was something for myself, like my own physical manifestation of a journey. We started at 500 miles. I started at the house I was sexually abused in, all the way to Tallahassee where true change takes place. And then it grew and I learned very, very quickly that I was not only walking for myself, but for all of the 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse and all of the children and families we have come across.
For example, at a children’s advocacy center last year near the completion of the walk, one of the young survivors, a 4-year-old who was actually sexually abused by her father, gave me $0.35 from her piggybank so I could help other girls like her, which we then put as a seed fund for the “Walk in My Shoes” committee. She is now the treasurer at a ripe, young age of 5 years old, along with her mother and the rag-tag team of other young survivors who go to the center. They have a president, a vice-president, a secretary, and they have raised more than $1,300 to make the “Walk in My Shoes” a success in their community so all children throughout Panama City know that it’s OK to tell.
That’s really what it’s all about, giving the power to these young survivors so they can feel empowered, and then bring that advocacy and action, and watch these survivors become thrivers.
What is the key to hiring the right team to help you share the powerful message of Lauren’s Kids?
When hiring my team I work with all women, because I believe that women and educators can rule, and should rule, the world. I believe in drive. I believe in dedication. You have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and I say this all the time to my team – as if somebody is working to take everything away from us. That’s what we do. That’s how we do it. And, that’s how we’re able to do what we’re doing.
We are fighting against an evil that is so dark, so insidious, so awful, but we are also fighting against people being afraid to look at an issue. So, not only are we dealing with predators and offenders who are hurting our kids and bringing about that awareness, but we also are trying to shine light on all of these dark places. My team has to be that good, that precise and that driven to make those things happen. And like I always say, if somebody opens the door for us a crack, we will run through it ten-fold and make anything happen. We will harness any opportunity, we will work hard, and we will make anything happen. I will only work with people who have the same zeal, passion and drive that I do for the issue. It’s hard to keep up with our pace, so one must work hard to find that balance.
With leading such a passionate organization, is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
You need to take a couple of hours to take care of yourself.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Have that passion I just talked about. And have drive. I believe that there’s no comparison for that.
From your success with Lauren’s Kids, what career advice would you offer aspiring Leading Ladies -- whether it be in the non-profit, entrepreneurial or another industry?
Never take “no” for an answer, and don’t take yourself so seriously. Grace under pressure is an important thing. Never let anyone see you sweat, but also work harder than anyone else in the room. Take any opportunity that is given to you, run with it and fight for it, because you never know when momentum is going to stop. I think that all women have to work, and unfortunately sometimes much harder than the men in the room, to get the same opportunities.
It’s really important to always fight and work hard for those opportunities when they present themselves. You never know when they may be coming around the corner again. But, on the other hand, when you’re working very hard, make sure you have balance. One of my favorite quotes is: “We can do anything, but we can’t do everything.” So, it’s about finding those opportunities, making them work for you and executing in the best way possible.
How can our community – those both within and outside of Florida – become involved with Lauren’s Kids?
Check out our website, laurenskids.org. We have incredible opportunities for volunteering, but one of the great things about “Safer, Smarter Kids” is that it can be brought to schools anywhere. As an educator, one of the things that was really important to me was that we wanted to provide a classroom teacher anywhere with the curriculum. Teachers can order a curriculum kit and bring “Safer, Smarter Kids” to their communities. Teachers also can download all of our resources, whether it’s the parent tool kit or the youth serving organization handbook. Anyone can bring these life-saving and empowering conversations to their communities and homes to keep their kids safe.
This is the greatest way we can end the sexual exploitation of children and protect childhood. It’s all about beginning that conversation, and not being afraid to talk about boundaries. It’s about not being afraid to talk about a safe touch and an unsafe touch, or a secret and not a secret, to keep children educated and make them aware of the signs, what to look for and what to report. That’s really what we ask everybody to do – to read, be educated and learn all that you can, because it will protect your children.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Always be sure you are listening to yourself and your inner voice. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. We work very, very hard and take any opportunity, but if there is ever an opportunity that doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. You have to listen to your intuition.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and as a woman, when I don’t feel right about something I do something about it. For so long I wasn’t able to listen to that voice inside. Now I do, and our entire team honors that with one another. We debate opportunities, look at every option of how things are going to happen, and that’s how you get to be the best at what you do. Think about all outcomes and execute them in the best way possible. It’s really important that you listen to your voice and your intuitions. They are there for a reason. As a woman in business, and as a survivor, it is a really important thing to do to take care of yourself.