Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe recommits to anti-abduction program |

Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe recommits to anti-abduction program

Claire Cudahy
Through A Fighting Chance, students use a car donated by the local sheriff's department to learn how to escape if they are abducted.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

It’s been 27 years since Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped while walking to the school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe. In response, A Fighting Chance was born to educate South Shore youth on escaping from dangerous situations — and this year, two decades after its inception, the club responsible for its longevity is breathing new life into the program.

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe celebrated 20 years of A Fighting Chance, which has reached 7,000 students in third through sixth grades. The program teaches children skills to evade capture, escape from vehicles, and call for help.

A Fighting Chance founder and city councilmember Brooke Laine urged members of the club to get involved with the program.

“A Fighting Chance is unique because this is a program for which we don’t want money, we want you to teach our young people skills that will help empower them should they find themselves in a dangerous situation,” said Laine.

“These skills we impart on them at a very young age, but they are meant to be able to help them for the duration of their life. I think about what’s going on in United States gymnastics right now and it just kills me that that many young women for many, many years were all being put into a position where they couldn’t defend themselves, and that is what A Fighting Chance won’t allow.”

The grade-specific curriculum engages students with short films, games and even gives them the opportunity to practice escaping from a vehicle using a car donated by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department. Students learn how to jam the ignition, tear wires inside the trunk to disable the tail lights and escape through a window.

Laine said she and the members of A Fighting Chance’s committee hope to “revamp” and “re-inspire” the program, which was started using a $3,000 donation from Terry Probyn, Dugard’s mother, when Dugard was still missing.

Dugard was eventually found in 2009, 18 years after she was abducted by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Dugard bore two children in captivity by Phillip, who was sentenced to 431 years in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault. His wife received 36 years to life.

“It’s a great program, and in this day and age, we need it more than ever,” said Irene Kaelin, a fifth grade teacher at Tahoe Valley Elementary School. Her first year teaching in Meyers was the year Dugard was abducted, and she’s seen the program impact her students over the last 20 years.

“They don’t instill fear; they try to empower the children and make them aware,” she added. “Growing up in Tahoe they can be naïve to some of these things, so having the kids and families be aware and getting some things in place, even something as simple as a family code word, is so important.”

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