Feb. 23—KINGWOOD — Students at Preston County Schools had a recent virtual visit from Krystian Leonard, founder and president of the nonprofit Shining S.C.A.R.S. and author of the book Shining Scars.
Terrie Cunningham, assistant director of the After School Explorers (ASE) and site coordinator for Kingwood Elementary, said Leonard talked about her book and why she wrote it. She said the author said she wrote to 100 publishers before she could get her book published.
"When I was 15, I decided to create a nonprofit called Shining S.C.A.R.S., " Leonard said. "I grew up having multiple scars. I had surgery on my leg in first grade and was bullied and called names."
She said she was called freak, Frankenstein and ugly. She later had surgery for a melanoma on her back. She said for two months she slept on the floor until she healed.
Leonard said she shared her story of why she developed Shining S.C.A.R.S., how she established her own nonprofit organization and what it was like to publish Shining Scars, an award-winning children's book, at age 16.
She said during a visit to a pool, a little boy changed her life forever.
"I was at the pool and a little boy came up and poked the scar on my leg and peeked at the one on my back, " Leonard said. "Then he smiled at me and showed me his physical scar. He didn't speak and I never knew his name. That day was life-changing. I thought if a little boy could be that confident with his scars so could I. I went home and looked in the mirror. For the first time I called myself beautiful. I found my inner star."
She said coping with being scarred is difficult.
"It's hard when you feel different, " Leonard said. "It's very hard to look physically different. It took a lot to stand up and say I didn't want to feel that way."
She said once she did that, she was happier and was able to do a lot more with her life.
The inspiration to embrace her flaws empowered Leonard to begin her first children's book at age 15. Shining Scars was published by Headline Books in Terra Alta and become a Mom's Choice Award Silver recipient.
Shining Scars is about a little star named Eugene, who goes on an adventure, gets a scar and is afraid to tell his friends. The story helps young people deal with body image and self-esteem due to noticeable physical scars.
"I want to be able to reach younger kids, " Leonard said. "I want to let them know just because you're different it's OK."
Since the nonprofit was created, Leonard said she has been able to travel across the country to speak at events such as TEDx Boca Raton, as well as visit children's hospitals in multiple states, schools across West Virginia and community events.
She said her Shining Scars book has been donated to 30 countries as she works closely with other nonprofits to globally provide resources and care packages to families and children in need.
Leonard said she is seeking funding to have her book translated into even more languages.
"I'm hoping to go back to the Preston County Schools when this is all over, " she said. "I want to sit down in the classrooms and talk to the students."
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