From a young age, author and speaker Laura Duksta dreamed of being able to travel the world and spread the message of love.
Standing under the outdoor pavilion at Keene’s Crossing Elementary School Tuesday, Feb. 4, Duksta was living her dream as she spoke to students about how their biggest challenges could become their biggest blessings.
The children’s author, speaker and visionary spent the day at Keene’s Crossing while she was in town for the Mount Dora Art Festival. She read her first children’s book, “I Love You More” — published 19 years ago — to students as they sat with attention fixated on the story.
But she also shared more than a book. She told them about losing her hair due to alopecia areata at age 11 and wearing wigs for years afterward before realizing her power was in being herself. She realized that she wanted to take what she learned and empower others.
Her school program is called “Empowering YOU to Shine!” and encourages children to show kindness, be resilient, love others and connect with others. And while Duksta said she didn’t realize at first that she would become an “ambassador of love” through children’s books, the message reaches so many because of them.
“What’s happening and what I love is that I get the message to young children and I also get the message to the parents and the grandparents, the teachers and the preachers, of how truly loved we are,” she said. “What I found is that I want to reach as many young people as I can get out to and share that our biggest challenges can set us back, but they can be the things that end up empowering us and moving us forward. (I want them) to know those challenging times that they’re going through will often turn around and become things that will propel them in life toward who they’re meant to be and what they’re meant to do.”
Duksta reached out to the school’s media specialist, Jennifer Drone, about bringing her presentation to Keene’s Crossing a few weeks ago. Drone loved the idea and said it complemented the school’s character enrichment efforts.
“I’m really impressed by her ability to bring these thoughts to our children at a level that they can understand,” Drone said. “I think it’s extremely important because we live in a society where we’re becoming more disconnected from interacting one on one, interacting personally with each other … so having them listen to a (presentation) on how to show kindness face to face with people is extremely important.”
Duksta finds joy in visiting schools all over the country and giving students and staff the tools to empower themselves and others.
“I can tell by their questions and when they come up to me after — they want to thank me for the presentation, they want to share that I’m beautiful — they’re making a decision based on kindness,” Duksta said. “That’s when I know I’ve gotten through to them.”
Drone said the school was pleased to give students the opportunity to hear Duksta’s message, adding that it drives home the point that it’s important to love others and treat them with kindness and respect — the way they would like to be treated.
“I think that they’re able to see the impact on themselves and they’re able to see the impact of their actions on others, and hopefully it will start a greater movement of kindness around the school,” Drone said.