This is the first in a blog series highlighting how important our annual Freedom Fund challenge grant is. Every donation provides direct funding to our programs and services. We need your help to fulfill our mission of preventing human trafficking and exploitation in the Central Valley and beyond!
As I reflect on my first year with the Justice Coalition, I am filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude for the blessings that have been provided to me! While countless others, myself included, lost their jobs when a global pandemic hit, after just a few short months on unemployment, God presented me with an opportunity to apply for a position with the Central Valley Justice Coalition to fill the position of Program Manager.
As an advocate and lived-experience expert (who has volunteered countless hours over the last 9 years in this field) it was an actual dream come true to start this new job. It was also a little scary to take on the responsibility that comes with building a program from scratch, in the midst of a shutdown!
As most of you know, volunteering and being an employee are very different things, and so I began the process of trying to figure out how to do a job no one had ever done before with only faces on a screen to help guide me.\nStarting out was rocky at best. A lot of my early days were spent engaging in Zoom trainings and soaking in how the day-to-day operations worked. There were days where I felt I was not doing much to contribute and I struggled with self-doubt. However, thanks to constant reassurance from the rest of the team over time I began to find my own groove. Beginning with tasks like managing our social media content and assisting Christa in the development of S.E.E. helped build my confidence and I could see (pun intended) that I was helping to build the coalition at the same time!
The biggest turning point for me in this first year was when I received the first referral to work with youth identified by the Department of Social Services as being extremely at-risk for human trafficking. Now, a year into the work, we’ve had the opportunity to reach almost two dozen youth with direct services in addressing at-risk behaviors that could lead to exploitation. My role at the coalition, by God’s grace, has become a very impactful one. This first year was a year for expanding on, not only my own capacities but the capacity at which the Justice Coalition serves the community. Being in this position has been a dream-made reality and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years!
We are excited to announce that Freedom Fund 21is taking place from October 18 through November 17. Once again, we are partnering with True Organic Products Inc. This year, TRUE has given $25,000 in the form of a challenge grant, which means that every dollar up to $25,000 will be doubled!
From our humble beginnings as a small, all-volunteer prayer group, we have grown to an organization with multiple staff members. Since 2015, we have been able to educate well over 27,000 people in the Central Valley and beyond. Hundreds of people have banded together to give thousands of dollars to fund this vital human trafficking prevention work.
To date, our annual Freedom Fund has generated over $251,000 in donations and every dollar makes a significant impact in preventing slavery and exploitation.
“After the training ended, one of the educators approached us and asked to talk. She said that she had been a victim of trafficking, and that her trafficker had sat right across from her in a high school class. She knew the importance of our message first-hand…
That day, the room was full of educators, most of whom worked with middle schoolers. Ryan and I (Christa) had finished a one-hour presentation about what trafficking is and what it looks like in our schools.
As educators, they are often on the front-lines, whether they know it or not, interacting with students and building relationships with families. With the right background knowledge, they might be the ones to identify vulnerabilities and build support, to identify victims, and to recognize traffickers on their own campuses, but they need to know what to look for. Of course the audience was responsive. They work in the schools because they care about kids, and as we shared stories of the realities of trafficking in our community, they could recognize students from their own schools.
One of the students we worked with last year shared this story which stands out to me as a powerful example of what we’re all working hard to prevent.
“The story I told you today about the guy who wanted to pick me up…I kinda thought about wanting to get in the car but then I thought that It was wrong and something could happen to me.
But I also thought about what would happen then if I got in, and I thought about our group and heard stories about what happened to the girls. And I did not want that happening to me. So I thank you for being here (and sharing your stories and stuff. I don’t know what I would do without this group.”
We have had 97 students complete our extended youth programs so far this year! We have given Human Trafficking 101 presentations in a variety of settings and to a number of different professional groups. We have trained social workers, teachers, medical professionals, group home supervisors, and community members. It is easy to believe that we know where trafficking happens and who is at risk. We read stories and watch movies and we think we have an idea of who is safe and who really needs this information. What we know after all of these presentations, is that everyone needs to be educated. In every profession, in every neighborhood, in every school, in every church, there is someone affected by human trafficking. Everyone has the potential to be an advocate, to offer help to someone who needs it. They may never identify themselves to you as a victim of human trafficking, but the resources you will gain can be used in a variety of situations to offer assistance and support. If we have not yet been to your community, your workplace, your school, you can be the one to invite us! You can speak to the decision-makers in your area. You can even go online right now and fill out a speaker request form. It only takes a few minutes. We can’t wait to hear from you!
The goal of our classes is to not only address the issue of human trafficking but also to give the general public (alongside with service providers) the basic information on how to spot a potential trafficking victim and what to do from there.
The whole goal is to prevent human trafficking through education! HT 101 breaks down the essence of all types of human trafficking with more of an emphasis on sex trafficking, highlighting recruitment, vulnerabilities, and misconceptions. HT 201 pin points and focuses on labor trafficking both globally and locally. In a recent partnership with Breaking the Chains, we have incorporated a new HT 301 which is a boots-on-the-ground training where service providers in different fields come to be better prepared to work with and offer help to potential victims they come across.
I have had the distinct pleasure of becoming a part of the prevention team; it has been very liberating and even more so, encouraging! I believe that it is very important to give survivors an opportunity to be more than their story and experiences, that is where true growth and healing come from.
Previously, I was stuck in a place where all I did was share my story and I felt that was all that I was good at even though I longed to teach about the issues at hand not just my own experience. Central Valley Justice Coalition got me certified in all of the HT classes, paid for me to get trained in My Life, My Choice and in turn, now I help teach most of the HT 101 classes and now help facilitate MLMC classes in many different settings to reach our young students and at-risk youth.
I would like to invite all those who are reading this to sign up for one if not all of the HT classes. With the knowledge gained in these classes, you will feel empowered and equipped with a better understanding of the problem of human trafficking that plagues our city.
It’s hard to believe that this is the fourth year we have had the opportunity to raise money for our Freedom Fund! Back in 2014, we were just getting started! We had no idea how much we would grow. We began with two part-time staff, lots of awesome volunteers, and the opportunity to raise up to $5,000 that would generously be matched by our partners at True Organic Products.
This time we are aiming to raise $20,000 from Nov. 1 to 20 which will then be matched by True Organic for a total of $40,000!
In the past four years, we have grown in so many ways! We have solidified our area of focus as a coalition, which I continue to believe is a desperate and urgent need in our community: Prevention. We must PREVENT trafficking from happening by educating everyone we can and surrounding those who are most vulnerable with resources and trusted advocates.
We have grown from a staff of two part-time employees to employing a full-time Executive Director and three part-time paid staff. We have 10 people trained on our prevention team and numerous other interns and volunteers working on other projects. We are truly growing into a community coalition!
We invite you to be part of it this year, whether for the first time or again for the fourth time because every single one of us is needed if we are going to prevent people from being exploited as slaves!
Thank you for catching the vision and running with us! We are deeply grateful to each of you who have given to our Freedom Fund. And we especially thank True Organic Products, for the fourth year in a row, for leading the way and helping us extend to others the opportunity to invest in freedom for all.
One of my favorite scenes from a movie this year comes from Logan, the darkly dystopian X-Men road movie. Regarding a family in need of help on the side of the road, Logan (played by Hugh Jackman) says to Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, “Someone will come along.”
“Someone has come along,” replies Xavier.
I’ve thought about this scene often during the last month. Our organization is currently experiencing the growing pains that come from the transition from friendraising to fundraising. When I left Northpark Church to take over at Central Valley Justice Coalition, I relied on the support of people I’d known for a long time to help make the transition and raise the support necessary. Jessica, Kelly and Melissa had done the same before I got here.
At this point, we are now in need of people who will come along, basically out of nowhere. People who see the dire situation of human trafficking and don’t turn away. People who will step up for the cause and take a leap of faith on the people who are running point for the battle.
I’ve had a number of people tell me that they would rather not know about the realities of human trafficking in our valley. Ignorance of the situation allowed them to have a naive comfort in the midst of the struggle and pain of others. I don’t think this is because they don’t have a heart. I think it’s because they feel like nothing can be done in the face of such overwhelming evil and exploitation.
But it isn’t true. Something can be done! And someone has come along. You are here now, reading this blog entry. What’s next?
•not getting paid for their labor
•not free to change employers
•being controlled by someone else
•being forced to do something they don't want to do
•has been cheated into payment of debt upon arrival
You, he, or she may be a victim of human trafficking and eligible for free assistance.
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888.373.7888 for more information. Or, text INFO or HELP to BEFREE (233733)
Contact us at 559.725.1865 for support, resources, and consultation. You can also contact the Fresno Police Tip Line at 559. 621.5950.