reflections from Jessica Pittman, Founder

“Often you learn the most from people you have absolutely nothing in common with.

Although it’s now been a good fifteen years or so since I started working with youth in challenging neighborhoods in Fresno, nothing reminds me how privileged I was growing up than spending evenings at the juvenile justice center. I spend it with these incredible young women who are resilient and strong in ways I hope I never have to be. And so yes, as an adult now I’ve experienced some trauma and have my own stories, but I can never underestimate the value of a safe and love filled childhood. I wasn’t the girl being described to me recently who would sometimes hide in a closet and cry and cry and cry

wanting to end my life before it even began because I didn’t know what else to do after being beaten so many times by my parents. The parents, the ones who define normalcy for a child too often tragically take it away, because it’s all they know how to do as well, and their tears and this fear becomes these kid’s earliest memories. It becomes their reality, their space in which they are trapped and all they want to do is escape.

And so they find themselves locked up, time and time again, and they can verbalize it: all they still want to do is escape. The pain is not immediate and physical now but it runs so deep that it’s part of them and all they’ve really known.

So we did this session called “My Life, My Choice” with these girls for about eight weeks. The title is ironic when you really consider how few real choices these kids have had in their short lives. Where they grew up, how their parents (if they knew them) treated them, if they had food in the house to eat, who came in and out and taught them about exploitation and survival at an early age using a very different language than the way I just wrote it.  But we tell them what they also already know; they do have important choices to make, and what they don’t always realize is how much each one matters.

There are these brilliant smiles and sparkles in eyes. There are outbursts of laughter and while often at the wrong moment, completely and ridiculously inappropriate, it’s contagious! It’s a release of this powerful energy of girls who are now being poured into, empowered, and given tools so they can change the trajectory of their future. Let’s be honest: the odds are completely against them. Many of them, stepping out of juvenile hall, are immediately worse off, in more danger, and sent back to the ones whose relationships may seem like love but are toxic.

On the days when I think clearly, I take comfort in the fact that I cannot solve these problems. They are too enormous. I have for two decades wrestled with poverty and injustice and how it manifests in Fresno. How it discriminates. And not just in Fresno but in this huge world…and the more years I live the more questions and the more ideas I have about how we as a church can live our true identity as Light.

So today, I am so proud and grateful to be part of a team that has, after a two-year involuntary break, re-entered juvenile justice center to humbly offer hope.

To talk honestly about the choices kids do have and how they can really use them to their overall advantage, for their future.  To look directly into their eyes and say, “you’re too valuable for this, you’re worth more, and don’t ever forget it when you leave these walls”. To write in their journals about what gifts and beauty I have seen glimpses of in a few short weeks and to leave a phone number that if and when they choose to use it, I know they will find help. The help won’t come as a simple solution, but it can be found.”

If you want to pray specifically for this team, please email me at jessica@justiceco.org. We are planning to share specific weekly requests for our next session, and desperately need a team of prayer people to join us!

We are also looking for donations and sponsors for these programs going as well, specifically for our youth programs we need pizza, candy, and snack donations. If you can help or want to know more please contact marissa@justiceco.org

would you like to sponsor our next pizza party or know a pizza place that would? contact Mariss@justiceco.org (we have two more on the calendar for 2019!)

Central Valley IICF presents us with an $8000 grant

Yesterday, March 12, we were presented with an $8000 grant from the Central Valley Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) at our office in South Central Fresno. The money will help us with our prevention programs for teens and adults for sure, but it is also a huge encouragement to know that hundreds of people from the insurance industry gave to make this grant possible! Valley businesses that provide opportunities for their employees to give charitably to local organizations are a vital part of our collective work to prevent human trafficking and exploitation.

We would like to thank the Steering Committee for the Central Valley Chapter of IICF for their hard work and dedication to raising funds to provide grants to local Community Benefit Organizations like ourselves!

Central Valley Steering Committee Leadership

Diane Carpenter, Zenith Insurance Company
Ed Clark, The Hartford
Jennifer Donato, Markel
Bob Funnell, Liberty Mutual
Sheila Ghimenti, Travelers
Christina Gomez, Relation Insurance Services
Diana Granillo, Hanover
Jody McTavish, TheHartford
Michael Osmer, SCIF
Greg Patton, Valley Regional
Tom Powell, Cal Valley Insurance
Kathy Schroeder, Sierra Specialty
Marcia Shafer, Zenith Insurance Company
Rene Swan, United Valley Insurance

The founding division of the IICF, the California Division was launched in 1994.  In 2008 the Division expanded and became the Western Division serving the Western United States. Each division determines its own grant focus areas, grant guidelines, events, and volunteer activities. The Western Division’s grant focus areas are Children at Risk, Education and Human Services. To date, as a whole organization, IICF has contributed over $31 million in local community grants!

The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) helps communities and enriches lives by uniting the collective strength of the insurance industry in providing grants, volunteer service, and leadership. You can find out more by visiting their website IICF.org or by searching the hashtag #insurancegivesback on social media channels.

We weren’t excited to leave our office at 487 W Shaw. We had it pretty good over there! Although less than two miles away from our previous space, we were hidden and this can be helpful in our line of work. Our gracious hosts at Aplos were growing quicker than they expected and simply needed the space they so generously gifted us, so the search was on again! Despite our reluctance to pack and haul our stuff again, we sensed God was up to something and we were on a mission to figure it out!

join us for monthly prayer!

Eventually we called Zack Darrah, Director of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM). Fun fact – Zack and I shared an office at Fresno First Baptist for about two years, while CVJC was just beginning, and had no name…

Zack Darrah and Bounkham Nounvilaythong. Before launching CVJC, I served as a Board member and visited Laos three times partnering with Pastor Bounkham (Director of Southeast Asian Friendship Ministries, SEAFM). SEAFM and FIRM started as one organization in the 80s and divided to conquer – SEAFM focusing work in Laos and FIRM in Fresno.
2008 trip in partnership with SEAFM

Today, FIRM works with well over 10,000 refugees a year. This includes about 100 unique walk in clients a month in addition to case managers who see 500 clients a month. Although we do not know all the ways our work will intersect as we share a space off McKinley and Fresno Street, and do know a few things about how this all connects to our work as a Coalition. . . for starters,

Trafficking is an exploitation of someone’s vulnerability for personal profit.

I have had the privilege of sitting with several refugees and hearing their stories – friends from Laos and from Syria. I certainly can’t imagine a more vulnerable situation than fleeing from a war torn country, often with young children, and entering a new land where you don’t speak the language, don’t have legal status or much money, and know little about system you suddenly rely on for basic life necessities.

Zack shared from his almost five years of working with the refugee community that there are many taboo topics, and human trafficking is certainly one of them. The issue is often not discussed. Like many cases we see, people may know something unfair or bad is happening to them or those they know, but they need context. He and I worked together on a case a few years back. Zack believes that if that if he hadn’t attended some of our earliest trainings years before, he may have just thought to himself, “This guy this lady is describing is a jerk.” With education and context, he knew it sounded a lot like labor trafficking.

“We need to create pathways to services for people who do not have open doors to have these conversations in a safe place,” Darrah said.

We are honored to partner in seeking justice with the FIRM, and with the many other partners we work with.

“Justice is at the heart of why we exist,”

Darrah said. It sounded rather familiar…

Thank you for being a partner who seeks justice with our Coalition and is bringing oppression into the light!

Already over 1300 students have been educated about the dangers of human trafficking and equipped to be difference makers in their communities. Presentations at Edison, McLane, Sunnyside, Fort Miller and more have been possible thanks to your support of Central Valley Justice Coalition.

Who do you know that needs to be part of the conversation?

Send us mail! Permanent address?

Central Valley Justice Coalition

PO Box 6099
Fresno, CA 93703


keep-calm-classes-start-soon

At the end of each Not a Number youth session, during the fifth and final week, each student is asked to fill out a reflection form. Many have given us permission to share these reflections with you! When referring to Not a Number, one participant said, “It is very enlightening and eye opening because [human trafficking] is unknown. It teaches you about perspective and critical thinking as well as preparing you to create safety plans.” This is why we’re excited to share that Not a Number begins tonight. We have seven students enrolled and space for three more if you have been wanting to join or to sign up your teen. (This class is for boys and girls ages 12-18! More info including short videos can be found on our website.)

2018 quote

Once CVJC has a permission slip, youth will dive into topics related to human trafficking such as: what is human trafficking, social media, healthy relationships, and safety planning. During the program, students will be provided with snacks, a resource guide to help with safety and advocacy, and a certificate of completion at the end of the last module. There are 3 more spots available as of now and we encourage those interested to register asap, it’s not too late! (It will be soon, obviously, class starts in about five hours! It will be the last opportunity to enroll in this class this year…)

NotaNumber _ Love146 Logo Combo

Teens in this program learn that they are “Not a Number” within negative statistics of human trafficking. However, we hope that by adding to our number of over 9,700 individuals educated, these same teens will be empowered to make a positive difference.

Please join us in prayer for these students who start our class tonight! Devin-Alexus Marin and Renee Lane are facilitating this class and I am thrilled to support them in every way.

To contact us with questions email info@justiceco.org or call 559-227-8001. To reach us after hours for this class or any other time sensitive reason, contact our Resource Line at 559-725-1865.

Thank you,

Marissa Garcia