NAPLES, Fla. — In her head, Laurie Robinson Sammons holds the truth that it only takes one stable adult to bring hope to an abused child.
In her hands, a collection of stories of those who’ve found that hope.
And in her heart, the dream to help end child abuse, sex trafficking and exploitation.
Her forthcoming book, “One Story Many Voices,” comprises true accounts of those robbed of the innocence and security owed children, but who eventually found healing.
“When I was living a life of secrets with a daddy who was an alcoholic, when my parents were not in the stands watching my performances, others were there,” Robinson Sammons says. She highlights four of her own significant “responders,” all teachers, in the book.
Though each story is unique, she says, all include the common ingredients of vulnerability and accessibility.
Originally set to release in April, Child Abuse Prevention Month, the book has been slightly delayed, but Robinson Sammons says she trusts in God’s timing.
“It’s a peaceful feeling, even with a heavy topic like this,” she says. “I’ve really just followed that inner voice, and felt the Holy Spirit guiding me through this process.”
Robinson Sammons, currently a Floridian, spent most of her life in North Dakota, where she developed a lifelong passion for education. Her years working as a youth center director and gymnastics coach in Devils Lake introduced her to many high-risk kids and domestic issues.
For 15 additional years, Robinson Sammons consulted with schools, collaborating with educators all over the world in best-practices instruction. Since retiring three years ago, she’s reconnected with her “original passion” to write a book helping foster healing and hope.
“God gave me a special invitation to go back to that assignment to write stories about children who’ve been compromised, and what we can do to try and bring them to wholeness again,” Robinson Sammons says. “I truly believe that when we’re broken and vulnerable and open to sharing our stories, God uses those stories and builds a bridge with them.”
She no longer uses the word “victim,” she says, noting that “those who claw their way to wholeness” are simply learning how to survive. Once she became open to the project, the stories began flooding in.
“God has just opened the doors. I walk 10 steps and hear a story.”
She met the central character in her book, “Elizabeth,” at her church in Florida.
“It’s the story of her being exploited by her father, from ages 5 to 18, of living with a hippie mom and a successful daddy, who, from all appearances, looked like the picture of success.” But behind closed doors, she was in survival mode.
Robinson Sammons says child abuse, exploitation and sex trafficking has spiked since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“From June of last year to January of this year, our hotline numbers had increased 90 percent. There’s a heavy taxing on families now due to people living in homes who are not used to taking care of the kids,” who become vulnerable to abuse.
“The book is a sense of urgency, a call to the public that kids cannot be left on their own to come forward,” she says. It’s geared mainly toward adults who can help speak for them — teachers, law enforcement officers and other caregivers.
Through the book, she’s hoping to train teams to support teachers who spot these children and equip them to become advocates. “In a classroom full of kids, we can see a child as a disciplinary problem, when in fact they might be drowning (at home).”
Even a single incident of abuse can have haunting, lasting effects, Robinson Sammons says.
“And you cannot move on until you deal with the wounds you have.”
A local survivor
The book includes the story of Yvonne Griffin, of Grand Forks, a mother in a relationship weighed down by domestic abuse when she swallowed the pills meant to end her life.
“It was 3 in the morning, and I woke up in a tub with some cool water,” she says, realizing she’d vomited the toxic medication. Earlier, Griffin says, she’d called out to God in desperation: “Lord, if you save me and bring me back from this, I promise to serve you forever.”
A Hidatsa and Assiniboine Sioux, Griffin’s abuse story began in childhood. “She was in 40 different foster homes, and in 18 of the homes she was sexually abused,” Robinson Sammons says, noting that a classroom teacher finally saw, and reported, her bruises.
Griffin chronicles the details in her self-published book, “In the Hands of An Abuser.” She’s founded several nonprofits, including Warming the Nations, which provides basic needs to the underprivileged on the reservation. She also runs a boutique in Grand Forks offering free winter wear.
“My healing happened because I gave my life to God,” she says, and ultimately, “forgiving the people who hurt me — and forgiving myself.”
Griffin, who says God has emboldened her, even found the courage to confront one of her perpetrators.
“He kept his head down, and started crying,” she says of the man, who wouldn’t look at her as she shared how extensively he’d hurt her. Neither did he respond when she asked if he, too, had been hurt. Finally, she offered her forgiveness, and encouraged him to seek God’s forgiveness, telling him of God’s mercy.
Currently, Griffin is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in ministry, through which she hopes to help women and children.
A third connection
Griffin’s healing began through the Community Violence Intervention Center (CVIC) in Grand Forks, which guided her beyond her domestic-abuse situation. She’s now a board member.
Robinson Sammons met Griffin through CVIC, where she’d connected through her consulting work, along with Coiya Tompkins, president and CEO.
“Our entire mission is to end violence in two generations,” Tompkins says.
Tompkins and Robinson Sammons eventually found support in one another in their writing endeavors, swapping manuscript portions for feedback. Tompkins’ book, “Two Generation Guardians: The Peacemakers that Changed the Face of Violence for Good,” due out this spring, honors CVIC’s 40th anniversary.
“I have a lot of respect for people who lead by example and let those (spiritual) nudges come to fruition,” Tompkins says. “I think in the end we both want not only safer communities, but more enriching communities. And if that can be blessed by a faith-based calling, why not?”
She sees Robinson Sammons as “a true educator at heart,” one who, “in her obedience to God, allows her faith to shine through her.”
“When you stay the course and just return to your part of what God’s asking you, you won’t be steered wrong.”
According to Robinson Sammons, “One Story Many Voices” melds “genuine story with the science on how you can train the brain to think differently when you’ve been traumatized,” noting, “In a classroom, kids can’t be attentive when they’re thinking about being beaten at home.”
Schools should be a place of safety when home is not,” she emphasizes, marking her mission.
Recently, Robinson Sammons experienced the effects of her life’s work when a former student asked her to play flute at his wedding. Later, he shared his recollection of reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” in her sixth-grade classroom, and how, when he’d started crying, she took him aside and, in a space away from the others, cried with him.
“He said, ‘You protected me,’” she says. “I was just being human. I never realized the impact that I had on him then, but those little acts of kindness are never forgotten.”
“All we really have to offer one another is a life surrendered to Christ, because his wholeness and grace overtakes brokenness in all of us,” Robinson Sammons says, concluding, “Our personal stories are not the good news, but God is.”
To pre-order a copy of the forthcoming book or inquire about booking her for possible speaking engagements, email Robinson Sammons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on March 12, 2021.]