Local woman wins Emmy Award

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Jennifer Mitchell was asleep in her home in Williston when her father called with the news: They’d won.

“Smart choices, safe kids: A Child Lures Prevention town hall meeting,” for which Mitchell was a co-producer, won an Emmy at the Nov. 19 awards banquet for the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Her father Ken Wooden of Shelburne, founder of the nonprofit Child Lures Prevention, was executive producer; her sister Rosemary Webb of Hinesburg also co-produced.

The one-hour news special was one of 16 nominated in the category of outstanding achievement for a public affairs informational one-time program. The telecast, which took several months to produce, focused on the mission of Child Lures Prevention: preventing child abduction and sexual abuse.

Mitchell said it was the statewide reach that made the program “fairly unprecedented.”

NBC Channel 5 (WMAQ) of Chicago, whose staff comprised most of the 19-member production team, aired the telecast last fall and then made the program available to seven other Illinois media markets – even those that were not NBC affiliates. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed to put Child Lures Prevention program training programs – which will include the “Smart choices, safe kids” video – into all 3,000 of the state’s elementary and middle schools.

“That’s why I’m so proud of this Emmy,” said Mitchell, who’s worked on these issues with her father for more than 20 years. “We’ll just continue to educate kids for a long time with the show.”

The eight-year resident of Williston and mother of two said she isn’t yet sure where she’ll put the award, but is considering displaying it in her living room.

Mitchell leans forward, her blue eyes lit up, as she explains that to her the Emmy Award means that more children and parents will learn how predators lure children into dangerous situations. Learning about those tactics will help parents talk to children so the danger can be avoided.

“If you think it’s difficult to talk to kids about this topic, or these issues, you have no idea how difficult it is to deal with the aftermath of not talking about it,” she said.

Tears well in Mitchell’s eyes as she talks about going to the Florida home of Jimmy Ryce, meeting his parents and seeing where he got off the school bus one day more than 10 years ago. What should have been a one-block walk home that day ended in the kidnap, rape and murder of the nearly 10-year-old boy. The Florida case of Carlie Brucia, 12, Mitchell said, was an example of how easily children are lured by strangers. After a sleepover, Carlie told the host parents she had permission to walk home. A security camera outside a car wash showed that a stranger approached her and she went with him willingly; she was raped and murdered.

“Those moments,” Mitchell said, rubbing her hands over her face and eyes, “just make you stop everything you’re doing and say ‘we’ve got to do more.’”

Though criminal abductions get the most media attention, Mitchell said it is daily sexual molestation that affects more children, giving them a “life sentence” of emotional struggles. Those problems translate into trouble at school, trouble with alcohol and other drugs, or worse.

Vermont has not put Child Lures Prevention training into all Vermont schools as Illinois did, Mitchell said, because the state in the past has said it lacks the financial resources. When she began this work with her father more than 20 years ago, Mitchell said many people told her money couldn’t go into prevention work when there were so many sexual abuse victims who needed help.

“We’ve been triaging for years and years and years,” Mitchell said.

Williston parents should know that in Vermont, Mitchell said, many molesters are children younger than 18.

“Parents need not only look out for the neighbor who their gut instincts say there’s something not right about, but also older kids playing with younger kids,” she said. Listening to your gut as a parent – and teaching your children to listen to their instincts – is critical in these situations, she said.

Mitchell said neither she nor her colleagues want to scare kids or parents.

“We constantly reinforce throughout the program most people are good people,” she said. Still, she said kids should know that precautions must be taken, just like in really bad snowstorms.

“By learning information like this we take precautions against bad weather people.”

For more information about Child Lures Prevention, including parent guides, visit Web site: www.childluresprevention.com