by Marissa Huante-Garcia

Hello!

My name is Marissa and I am the Coalition’s Victim and Survivor Advocate. In addition to helping with youth referred to us by Friday Court, I have also, pre-COVID, facilitated the My Life My Choice youth program within the Juvenile Justice Campus. This is a program specifically created for teen girls who have been in the life or who are at particularly high risk for human trafficking. Given the nature of the program and the various, difficult topics it covers, it’s safe to say that this is a challenging program for both youth and facilitators under the best of circumstances. Add in the extra layers of Juvenile Detention and it was somewhat intimidating to start. 

It was important for me to learn how to work through stacks of paperwork and working through the carefully structured program. I found myself able to do that with support from those working at the Juvenile Justice Campus as well as a lot of trial and error. However, something I muddled over – something the program book doesn’t really teach you- is how I could possibly grasp and maintain these girls’ attention. 

this could have worked…

I realized early that the best way to this was to be my realest self.

As cliche as that sounds, it was what I had to do. I had to try and be as real as I could with these girls, as the young girl from rural Selma where the sound of gunfire and the smell of marijuana are familiar. I had to let myself be the girl who could relate to them culturally, if not fully then at least in some capacity when it came to my knowledge of rap music, pop culture, and the dynamics of the Latino community. 

It was a humbling experience to recognize that some of the metaphoric hats I would wear in my professional or social settings were not going to cut it once I was inside with those girls. It was humbling to recognize that there are some areas where my professionalism and aspects of my background that are considered less professional may need to cross paths. In this way, I learned just as much from these girls as they did from me. And in the midst of all this, the most rewarding moment I had was when of the girls shared, quite directly, and with words I cannot use here, that I had their respect. Something, that stuck with me as I had only hoped I could have their ear. I facilitated this group a few times in JCC and despite the grim realities of the content, it felt good to high five girls who now knew me as they walked in and to see that they were actually excited to start another class. 

One of our first programs ever done outside of the Justice Center, in 2016. This teen is still in contact with us as a volunteer to this day, and has helped us start SEE, our Students Ending Exploitation peer advocacy group.

I think it’s also important to note that I realized that, in some very basic ways, they were not so different from me and that too was humbling. I remember telling them that the hope I had was that they learned something that could someday lead them to my side of table. And that is something I carry with me to every new group.

now until December 15th, every dollar is DOUBLED up to $25,000!

As part of our 10 year anniversary Freedom Fund, this goal is vital to helping us continue to offer this program to groups and one on one mentoring services to high risk teens next year. Will you join with us to prevent trafficking in decade #2 of our work?

donate now!

For years, the Justice Coalition has dreamed about a student lead team that focuses on peer to peer advocacy. This dream has finally become a reality! This summer, we launched our first ever youth coalition: Students Ending Exploitation (SEE). We couldn’t be more excited about the students leading this group and the incredible energy, talent and passion they are leading with! Allow them to introduce themselves…

“We are a collection of like minded students from a wide variety of backgrounds. We carry a strong drive to share knowledge to our peers about human trafficking in order to prevent it.
This webpage and our social media accounts are a resource for other students who may want to educate themselves more on the topic. Informing yourself and others is a great way to have peer empowerment and to take action within the community!!”

Learn more about our leadership team and see who’s involved!

Watch for great things coming from this team! Follow SEE on social media and connect with us. Next week, on Thursday October 8th, we present “How to Be Free” online, a youth workshop on preventing exploitation. SEE has gone through this course and helped review it so we can share it effectively with students everywhere. Join by registering today!

My journey with the Central Valley Justice Coalition began years ago when I was first resourced as a survivor of human trafficking and everything else progressed from there. I started off as a volunteer assisting with the Human Trafficking 101 (now Understanding Human Trafficking) classes. Eventually, I joined the team as a volunteer prevention educator. In 2017, I accepted an invitation from the Justice Coalition board of directors and served for two-and-half consecutive years before taking this new opportunity to become a staff member.

headshot of Arien Pauls

“I believe God placed me with this amazing organization. I am a person who believes strongly that there is a time for everything and that timing is God’s alone!

After waiting eight years to get an official job position within the anti-human trafficking movement, I believe God placed me with this amazing organization. I am a person who believes strongly that there is a time for everything and that timing is God’s alone!  Equipped with both my lived experience and years of hands-on work in this field, plus a love for working with youth and at-risk populations, I knew I would be the perfect fit for the position of Program Manager.

Statement from Justice Coalition leadership: Arien Pauls is a driven advocate and an active leader in the Central Valley of California, fighting the issue of human trafficking by collaborating with local agencies and sharing her personal experiences to help implement change for victims and survivors of human trafficking. She has also served her first two-year term on the California CSEC Action Team Advisory Board. Arien has also worked as a volunteer as a lead victim advocate for adult women at Breaking the Chains, an organization that provides services to survivors of human trafficking.

In 2018, Arien was awarded the Eva Murillo Unsung Hero Award by the United States Congress. Her other interests include creating art for her small business, vintage memorabilia, parenting her daughter and wedding planning, as she will marry her best friend in December 2020. Currently, Arien is enrolled at Grand Canyon University, where she is pursuing a B.S. degree in Justice Studies.

Arien Pauls with Congressman Jim Costa in 2018

After nearly 100 days without any in-person events, we returned in June with two outdoor events aimed at preventing human trafficking! In every possible way, we worked to keep these gatherings socially distant and safe for all as we responded with a prayer walk in Downtown Fresno and the Poster Project (sharing posters, educational resources and emergency backpacks throughout the city).

Gathering to pray on June 23, 2020

As a Coalition, we sensed God moving among us at these events. We prayed for healing in our city, state and country in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic and nationwide calls for racial equality. Following the events, we got to hear inspiring stories of how a simple backpack or cold bottle of water made someone’s day.

Distributing posters to businesses and public areas on June 20, 2020

Thanks to all who joined us! Stay tuned for more ways you can join us in-person on our mission to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. In the meantime, sign up for one of our online classes, donate to our work, or share our content on social media!

To our brothers and sisters, friends, partners, and colleagues in the Black community: 

It is difficult to find words to express our devastation and brokenness over the lives that have been taken – those we know of and those we don’t – this year and in the many years of our country’s history. We grieve with you and we are angry. As both individuals and as an organization we commit to standing with you. 

We acknowledge that we are participants in a shared history of deep trauma and we repent for our complicity in systems that have perpetuated injustice and suffering. Beyond this moment in time, there is a long, hard road ahead of us. As an organization, we have worked for freedom and justice for years but have still failed to fully grasp the struggle of our brothers and sisters.

Our city has a history of racism and division. Our churches have fallen short. We have caused pain. We are asking God to forgive us for ways we have contributed to racism and to guide us into a deeper understanding of his work to redeem, restore and reconcile all people through his son Jesus Christ.

We commit to moving forward in unity. We are listening. We are praying. We are actively researching, continually learning with eyes wide open. We are taking action. We commit to deepening our relationships with African American leaders in our community that we already know and seeking out those that we don’t know yet to listen and learn. We will actively seek involvement from African American youth for our youth leadership coalition. We also pledge to use our influence and relationships to advocate for meaningful reforms that will address police brutality and inequitable enforcement against the Black community.

We know that we might make mistakes and we pledge to acknowledge and correct our actions when they are pointed out to us by those we seek to serve. As an organization, we are motivated by our unshakeable belief that every human being is valuable and deserves to be free. We believe, standing with our brothers and sisters, that Black lives matter and we join the chorus of voices calling for meaningful actions from individuals, institutions, and communities to combat systemic racism.

Sincerely,

Central Valley Justice Coalition staff and board