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Jaycee Dugard signs copies of her books after speaking during the annual United Way of Central Washington Community Breakfast on Monday,

Soon after she was reunited with her family in August 2009, Jaycee Dugard began writing her first book, “A Stolen Life: A Memoir.” Writing was an important part of the therapeutic process after she was rescued from the couple who abducted her as a child.

“It was their shame, not mine,” she said of Phillip and Nancy Garrido, who kidnapped her on June 10, 1991, as she walked to her school bus stop in Meyers, a small town near South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Dugard spoke Monday at United Way of Central Washington’s annual community breakfast. Her message of overcoming the unimaginable trauma of being held captive for 18 years by a convicted sex offender resonated strongly with supporters of the nonprofit, which seeks to build resilience in its commitment to overcoming intergenerational poverty in Yakima and Kittitas counties.

“I am here today because I believe you can survive trauma and live a healthy life,” said Dugard, who created the JAYC Foundation, which stands for “Just Ask Yourself to Care.” It connects families to support and services they need to recover from the abduction of a family member or other traumatic events, its website notes, and will hold its first fundraiser Sept. 28.

“It’s important to me to keep going and see how many more lives we can touch,” Dugard added.

She has written two New York Times bestsellers: “A Stolen Life: A Memoir” (2011) and “Freedom: My Book of Firsts” (2016) about her abduction in broad daylight by two strangers. As Dugard, then 11, leaned close to Phillip Garrido’s open car window, he hit her with a stun gun and pulled her into the car, where his wife, Nancy, pinned her down.

They forced her into their backyard prison, a jumble of sheds, tents and small buildings behind their house in Antioch, Calif. She was handcuffed and assaulted. Over the years she tread carefully with her captors, doing what she could to survive their whims and moods for nearly two decades. During that time, Garrido had many parole officers, Dugard recalled.

Convicted in 1976 of abducting and raping a young woman in South Lake Tahoe, Garrido was also seeing a counselor. Authorities noted lapses by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and other instances where further investigation may have freed Dugard earlier.

Reliving favorite memories kept her going, Dugard said, along with hope. Hope is a powerful and important emotion. “No one should ever take hope away from someone else,” she said.

She and her two daughters, whom she gave birth to in captivity, were rescued on Aug. 26, 2009, after a series of events led authorities to Phillip and Nancy Garrido’s home. Both are serving lengthy prison sentences. Dugard’s recovery began with help from Dr. Rebecca Bailey, director and founder of Transitioning Families, her therapist and friend. Bailey introduced Dugard at the breakfast.

“Despite all that we endured, my daughters are amazing, amazing people,” said Dugard, who signed copies of her books after speaking. “Both are in college and living their best life.”

United Way in the community

Monday’s annual event highlighted United Way’s role in supporting 48 partner agencies, many of which offer specialized services to help those who have survived trauma.

After a short video, board chairwoman Sonia Rodriguez True and Neiri Carrasco, president and CEO of United Way of Central Washington, introduced Divina Sanchez, 16. Sanchez spoke about being assaulted by a friend of her mother’s who became increasingly abusive until one night when he attacked her.

“He pulled out a gun. He tried to choke me. He punched me in the face,” Sanchez said. “The only thing that really kept me going was my younger siblings.”

The man went on the run and the family was forced to stay at a shelter for their own safety, she said. He was captured and went on trial, during which Sanchez testified against him. She was worried about facing him again, but she had not anticipated the number of people who came to support her and her family.

He was sentenced to 9 ½ years in prison, for which Sanchez is thankful. “No kid should have to go through that,” she said.

True noted that Sanchez received therapy at Catholic Charities of Central Washington, a partner agency. United Way hopes to raise $1.5 million in its 2019-20 campaign to support those and its other partner agencies in Yakima and Kittitas counties.

The nonprofit raised nearly $1.3 million in its 2018-19 campaign.

Childhood trauma can impact a person’s mental and physical health for a lifetime, potentially leading to homelessness and addiction, disease and a life cut short. Mitigating the effects of childhood trauma by building resilience and offering opportunities is key, Carrasco said.

“We want to break the cycle in our community,” she said. “We want to close the opportunity gap.”

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.