Along with nearly everyone in the world, our work and home lives were thrown into chaos the moment our city issued a Shelter-in-Place order last month in response to the Global COVID-19 pandemic. Immediately, our thoughts and prayers were with everyone who was affected by the novel coronavirus. It’s safe to say that it is an unprecedented tragedy; one that cruelly targets vulnerable populations.

While we were fortunate to be healthy, our reality was altered significantly. Learning how to work remotely while homeschooling your kids at the same time is simultaneously all of the above: challenging, frustrating and overwhelming!

Yet, the five of us on staff at Central Valley Justice Coalition also recognize that, even in the midst of this storm, we are blessed to have the continued opportunity to do this vital work. During this time of massive economic uncertainty, it is not an exaggeration to say that we feel like we have been thrown a lifeline every time we receive a donation in the mail.

As people of faith, it appears that God is telling us to not become discouraged as we fight against human trafficking and exploitation. Galatians 6:9 reminds us “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (NIV)”

We will not give up! As an organization, we have been moving in the direction of offering more resources online but this current reality has forced us to immediately rethink how we are delivering our lifesaving information to people who desperately need it. And the reality is: vulnerable people will be targeted for exploitation not just in spite of this crisis but because of it.

In response to this global pandemic, we are retooling nearly everything we do to better follow our mission of preventing human trafficking through education, partnership and outreach. One of our key metrics for our work is “people educated in face-to-face events.” In over 9 years of service to our community, I can tell you how many people we’ve reached; it’s over 37,000 individuals. Now, with every gathering canceled for the foreseeable future, how will we continue to pursue our prevention education goals?

As we work remotely during this time, we have been able to continue assisting survivors of trafficking with financial and mentoring support as well as continue to offer classes. We just launched an online course (nearly six months in the making) through a partnership with Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Online Learning called Understanding Human Trafficking. Even during the last three difficult weeks, in three different sessions, we have managed to educate nearly 100 people online using the ZOOM platform!

We only exist as an organization because of the continued, generous support of our donors, volunteers and partners. In these uncertain times, we don’t take for granted that you continue to support us! Our promise to you is beyond only not giving up, moreover, we will continue to make the adjustments and changes that allow us to meet the challenges of this new reality.

Thanks from all of us at the Justice Coalition!
Grace and peace,

Ryan Townsend, executive director

After careful consideration, Central Valley Justice Coalition has decided to postpone our Tea Party (and Technology/Trafficking class) originally scheduled for March 21 at Northpark Community Church. With the landscape around COVID-19 shifting daily, even hourly, we feel it’s prudent to give out-of-town guests as much notice as possible to alter/cancel travel plans. Everyone who purchased a ticket or table will receive a full refund from our online ticketing system. A new date will be announced for the Tea Party when we come to a decision and everyone will be invited to purchase new tickets.

We do not make this decision because we are afraid of the Coronavirus disease. Rather, it’s because we recognize our responsibility to protect vulnerable people extends beyond just those who are at-risk for human trafficking. As an organization, we want to do our part to protect our guests and stop the spread of the virus in the community where it will adversely affect the most vulnerable among us.

It’s important to note that our office remains open at 1940 North Fresno Street in the F.I.R.M. Building. Additionally, anyone needing help or access to resources can reach us through our Resource Line at 559-725-1865, social media pages, or through email using Human Traffickers will not take a break for COVID-19 and neither will we.

During this extraordinary time of national reorganization and re-prioritization, we will focus our prayer efforts on containment of the virus and healing for those who have contracted it. As always, we continue to pray for the prevention of exploitation in all of its forms.

– Ryan Townsend, executive director

by jessica pittman, founder

This is the time of year that I love because we intentionally slow down our presentations and classes and do what only a certain type of person likes to do…PLAN!!! (Color coded excel sheets make this type of person happy…) This year we find ourselves in a unique season.

If you haven’t heard…as we enter a new decade in 2020, our Coalition is turning 10! We will soon be in the double digits! (The awkward pre-teen years…)

It’s a bit confusing at times, so quick history lesson. In 2006, I began planning a trip to Prague and Amsterdam with some women at my church to visit one of my favorite leaders ever – Lauran Bethell, Global Human Rights Consultant. As we planned, we looked locally to ask what was happening in Fresno in regard to this global pandemic of human trafficking. From 2006-2009, we prayed, researched, and invited experts to speak to us at ‘justice focus groups’. We led Bible studies, read International Justice Mission books together, and led round table discussions in the community and at churches. By 2010, we had a core group of passionate people who had volunteered quite a bit of time seeking to understand human trafficking in our region. But we didn’t want to just understand it – from the beginning we were action driven. We were inspired by our freedom, and distraught at the exploitation we were seeing and hearing about from people in our own neighborhoods. We could not ignore it or let it be a phase of our focus. So, we named ourselves the Central Valley Justice Coalition and began planning our first major community event, We Are One, for National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on 1/11/2011. (THROWBACK: You know you want to see this one minute video of Ryan Townsend giving you directions to the event!

We are One, 1.11.11
Artwork for our first event courtesy of Jarod Rocker

So here we are, about to enter our second decade. Ryan is on a sabbatical for a few months and we are so thankful he has this opporunity to take a breath and a break. Earlier this year, we spent a good amount of time envisioning the next five years for the Coalition. We created the first draft of document that we may eventually release publicly, sharing our bold ambitions, our hopes and our plans for 2020-2025.

By God’s grace and provision, the Coalition has been on a growth trajectory since we began. But for the first time ever, we didn’t make our $50,000 #FreedomFund19 goal. And, not by just a little….by a pretty LOUD $13,000. This will have an impact on what we can do in 2020, depending on how our year ends financially. (You can help on this one, by the way!)

“We may make our plans, but God has the last word.” (Proverbs 16:1, GNB)

We had the most speaker requests, the most students go through our programs, and great momentum in almost every area of our work, but the funding didn’t all show up like we planned, hoped, timed and prayed this October. We heard a few more no’s than we’ve heard in the past. But we heard many, many more yeses, and we are so thankful. So we’re not stopping yet, because there are over one million people in Fresno County alone who need to be empowered through education and given tools to prevent exploitation. Will you join us? Those one million people were created to be free.

As we’ve planned, prayed and listened to what we discern God to be saying for next year, we received an unexpected word.

We think it’s counter cultueral. It’s even Christ-like. Going small doesn’t mean our impact is necessarily small. It means our work is deeply rooted, sometimes it may be a bit harder to see, especially at first.

I’m thinking about a man I know with a not-so-small impact who focused on the smaller number of twelve. He changed the world.

It’s with anticipation and curiousity that I am embracing this idea. Our Coalition will shift our focus to smaller events with some new themes and activities we haven’t done yet. We’ll do some things we have done for years. But one thing we won’t do is dream small.

I hope you join us!

by Vanessa Mahlmann

I began my time with the Coalition as a volunteer 2 years ago and it has changed my life. 

I wasn’t involved with any groups or organizations at the time. I knew about the Coalition, but I did not take action until the Lord spoke to me. I had no idea what God had in store for me.

I was a homebody and allowed life to pass me by for quite some time. I grew up involved with the Salvation Army, as my grandparents were ministers for the Salvation Army. I did a lot of volunteer work in my youth and I loved it. There really wasn’t a feeling like it. To give, to receive nothing tangible back and wanting to continue doing it because you know it is the right thing to do. Somewhere between getting married, starting a family, going to school, and getting MY “priorities” in order I forgot to serve. Not just my community, but my Lord. 

And, even if you do not believe in God, you can believe that volunteering and serving others is important and good! We need to serve and give with a cheerful heart. Not just our finances (which is helpful too) but with our time. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) The blessings that we can give and receive are innumerable as well as unimaginable. I know, because it has and still is happening to me.

Volunteering gives us a sense of purpose. Nothing brings people together like fighting for the freedom of others!  The work that Justice Co volunteers provide is essential to everyday processes. Running errands, stuffing envelopes, data entry, outreach,  teaching classes, all which gives volunteers a sense of purpose. Some of these things may seem inconsequential, but they are what it takes to prevent human trafficking. 

Volunteering may reduce stress levels. By enjoying time spent in service to others, individuals will feel a sense of meaning and appreciation, which can have a stress-reducing effect. I love, pray for, and trust our volunteers. I do my best to make sure they know how much I appreciate each and every one of them.

Volunteering ignites passion and makes us happy. Research has shown that the “feel good” hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities. Volunteering is also a good way to explore different interests. The Justice Co has many ways individuals can use their gifts and talents. Graphic design, mentoring, education, and event planning are just some of the ways our volunteers can serve. 

For those of you who are reading this that have helped the Coalition in any capacity, thank you! If you can’t give your time right now, when you give financially you are sharing from what you earn…every hour and every dollar matters. It’s in fact multiplied – even doubled through midnight tomorrow! Will you join us?

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

 1 John 3:18

Vanessa Mahlmann, Office Administrator

ps. volunteer orientation coming Nov 14th! Save the date!

By Jessica Pittman

Sometimes no story is really the best story we can tell

– Ryan Townsend

Yesterday one of our staff participated in a round table discussion for caregivers of foster youth. She discovered that one of the people at the discussion had been trained by us about two years ago when they were on staff at a local middle school.

This person shared that thanks to the staff training and youth programs that we’ve been consistently running at their school, that year they immediately started to see an increase in kids recognizing red flags before they turned into exploitation. 

Several kids told the staff that they had planned to meet a person they didn’t know at a bus stop. They had met this person online. However, because they were in our youth program #Not a Number, these students realized the potential danger and chose not to go.

This is a huge win! This means what we’re all doing together MATTERS. And we know without a doubt there are many many stories like this, probably more than we know.

We are now entering the final week of our Freedom Fund and we need your help to run more programs and provide more training in the future! Every dollar up to $22,000 is doubled so now is the time to give and maximize your impact. Every gift, large or small makes a difference. Every dollar counts because every person is valuable and deserves to be free!

Check out the infographic below to see how the impact of Freedom Fund during the last five years.