A Special Tribute

An Inspiring Story About the Ascent 121 Journey

By: Ascent 121 Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder, Megan Jessup-Smyth

May I share a story with you?

Ascent 121 was inspired, in part, by a young lady I had worked with at my previous job who lost her life in a shoddy hotel room, at the hands of her exploiter. At the time, youth were not accurately identified as trafficking victims and Indiana had no specialized clinical services for them even if they were. 

Sadly, violence is a very real part of the world we exist in. It is the fear and the burden that each of us at Ascent 121 carries with us every single day. During our decade of work, we have lost 7 of the kids we work with. The youngest was just 13 years old. 

When processing our grief, we knew that we wanted a memorial bench to honor and remember these sweet lives. It would be a special undertaking and so we waited until the right person presented themselves. Last fall, a family member of one of our staff offered to make one for us and it was recently delivered. We had the honor of listening as he shared the story of the bench.

Today, I want to share it with you.

Before ever touching any materials, the craftsman sat and reflected on the purpose of the bench and the work that we do at Ascent 121. After much thought, he chose Western Cedar. The craftsman chose this particular wood because it is often in rough shape and difficult to work with. As a result, it is regularly overlooked, discarded and otherwise rejected by others. However, this craftsman recognized the potential of this material. Not only for its rugged beauty but, equally importantly, for the fact that it holds natural oils that fight against things like parasites and wood-rot. This wood was already extremely resilient and, with some help, had incredible potential. It was the perfect material to represent the work we do.

The craftsman intentionally maintained a simple design because he didn’t want his own work or extensive detail to subtract from what spoke for itself and the overall purpose of the memorial bench. Though this man had never interacted with the kids we work with, he somehow just described them beautifully.

Though lives have been lost, this is a story of redemption. A story of the resilient humans they were, and the strengths they had all along. A story of the kids we have served, are serving, and those still yet to be served. A story of hope, and healing, and ongoing support.

This bench is undoubtedly one of the most meaningful gifts that our team has ever received. One day this bench will live in our arts garden, among other beautiful works created by the kids. For now, I’ll share it with you.

With Deep Appreciation,
Megan Jessup-Smyth, LCSW, CSAYC
Chief Operating Officer
Ascent 121