BRADENTON -- For Drew Kesse, the strongest four-letter word in the English language is hope.
That’s what the father of an abducted daughter told a group of reading volunteers Wednesday at Renaissance on 9th.
In 2006, Kesse’s then-24-year-old daughter Jennifer Kesse was abducted in Orlando when she walked out of her apartment one day. Her car later was found in Texas. The FBI and other investigators have never been able to find out what happened.
Drew Kesse said his family can only “hope,” something he has done all his life, he said.
The Bradenton man spoke “for those who cannot -- the missing, the abducted” as the guest speaker at the Let’s B Safe orientation luncheon.
The Let’s B Safe program focuses on literacy and childhood safety. The book “Let’s B Safe,” by Brenda Zofrea, is read to first-graders throughout the school district to educate them to common lures used by predators. The book also is designed to show children how to respond in dangerous situations.
“Today is a different world then when we grew up,” said Manatee School District Superintendent Tim McGonegal. “In Safety Harbor, I don’t even think we locked our doors. What a different world we live in today and that’s a shame.”
Zofrea told the group of volunteer readers that 1 out of every 6 children will be sexually abused at least once before they turn 18. That’s why the goal of the Let’s B Safe program is to reach every first-grader to teach them ways they can protect themselves.
“If you’re going to have a child, please be responsible for that child,” Kesse said to the group. “When you bring a child into this world that is the most difficult job anyone can have.”
Kesse said it’s rare for a child to be abducted by a total stranger like, he says, his daughter was.
“I’m here to tell you it not only can happen to you -- it only takes three seconds,” he said.
Kesse ended his talk by quoting Albert Einstein:
“ ‘The world is a dangerous place to live -- not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.’ ”
Kesse said he’d like to make the world safer “one child at a time.”
Volunteers will begin reading “Let’s B Safe” on April 28. Each child gets a copy of “Let’s B Safe” and a plush bumblebee, which is featured in the book.