This Beauty Didn’t Let Her Dark Past Define Her. Now She’s Sharing Her Secret to Help Others!
When you’re the child of a parent in prison you feel confused, hurt, angry, lonely and sometimes you may even feel that it is somehow your own fault.
The 2012 Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler, knew these feelings only too well. When she claimed the crown wearing a beautiful black-beaded gown, it was obvious that there was something very different about her. It wasn’t just her dark hair-- it was her father’s dark past.
"I grew up with an alcoholic dad who was never in my life," said Laura "I felt I'd accomplish nothing in life because of something out of my control.”
When Laura was a teenager her father was imprisoned, and he painfully missed out on her senior year in high school. But Laura used something that most would be ashamed of to help her relate to millions of children across the nation with her platform dedicated to children of incarcerated parents. Laura wrote this heartfelt letter to children with whom she shared this common bond:
Dear Children of Incarcerated Parents,
I know how you feel. When I was 14, an immediate family member committed a white collar crime and when I was 17 was sentenced to one year in federal prison. I was angry, sad and confused. It was not easy but I never gave up hope for a better day, and more importantly, a better life.
I always believed in myself and tried to surround myself with positive people who encouraged me. Promise me one thing – you will always surround yourself with positive role models and never lose faith in yourself. This situation does not define you. Dream BIG – you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I believe in you and I believe in the power of your future!
So many families find that a family member’s absence is magnified during the holiday season…and perhaps children feel this loss most deeply.
Most children are excited about what Santa will leave for them under the Christmas tree. But when you’re a child of a parent in prison you are simply hoping that your mom and dad won’t forget you, and maybe, just maybe, they will call. But you’d never dare dream they’d send you a gift.
But that is where a heaven-sent organization called Angel Tree steps in. They help to deliver gifts to the children who may have otherwise endured the worst Christmas of their childhood. These gifts aren’t from Santa, but they are sent on behalf the child’s imprisoned parent with a message of healing from Jesus.
“I was too young to actually remember my dad. But those Angel Tree presents – I don’t know how to describe it – they made me feel like I was important. I was really happy I got something from him, and to know that he’s ok.” --Akeylah, Angel Tree recipient
In the end we hope that all of these children have a happy ending that is similar Laura’s. Her dad Jeff Kaeppelear is now a free man in every sense, and he has learned a great lesson from their family’s struggles and victories because of his actions.
“It taught us that God can turn anything into good if you let Him." --Jeff Kaeppelear
When Laura won the crown for Miss America he was there. He was proud and sure when he said, “We’ve seen a miracle” Laura called her dad her best friend, and the whispered sweet I love yous to each other backstage.
Laura wants children to know that their family’s past doesn’t have to define them, no matter how dark it is, and that they can break the mold and move on to become great.
"I have to put myself on the line every day," Laura said. "I have to make the message hit home, that we're the same.
And that if my past didn't define me, it doesn't have to define them." – Laura Kaeppelear
And while Laura is helping to spread the message of encouragement, Angel Tree will be helping to spread the message of the Gospel this Christmas.
“Before Angel Tree, I had no friends. I didn’t know what was going on. I cried every day now, I am part of one big family, and I know that I can talk to Jesus, and He will help me with my problems.” –Shay, Angel Tree Recipient
So this Christmas let’s remember to spread the message of our coming Savior—even to those who may be overlooked. Because it’s through Jesus that we ALL find the strength to press on, to overcome the worst kinds of heartaches, and to help others.
Learn more: Prison Fellowship