Jessica Pittman, Founder

At some point in 2020 I adopted a bit of a motto for the year…

As with most things, it’s easier to write it pretty on a graphic and post it than to really live it. But I’m definitely giving it shot! So it’s time to share about the latest change in process at the moment for me and our JusticeCo team…

A few months ago I shared with our staff that it’s time for me to move into a very different role with our Coalition. If you’re just getting to know us, I began this movement with a team of incredible faith and community leaders, and we just celebrated our 10 year Anniversary as a Coalition this past year. But the journey actually began for me closer to 2006, with my first oversees trip focused on human trafficking in Europe in March of 2007. So for me, it’s been well over a fifteen year journey. And, by no means is it over…

Yet through a process of prayer and contemplation, it’s with bittersweet feelings that I sense it’s time for my role to change. By the end of March, I will no longer serve on the staff team as the Associate Director/Director of Prevention, but will move into an advisory role. This will mean joining our volunteer Advisory Council, which has been in place since 2013. I will continue to connect with and engage our faith community in some way as well. From the very beginning, this has been my passion, and church: we are needed now more than ever.

We have a new year before us. Let’s embrace our identity in Christ to be light. To be known by our love.

~words from an eleven year old survivor and participant in one of our youth programs~

So, these details are still in the works as we search for the right person to hire, and as I discern what is next for me personally.

Know that this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in awhile. I love the Justice Coalition! Our mission speaks to the core of who I am and who I try to be. I 100% believe in the work we do, and I see the we’ve made over the years. It is both humbling and honoring. I see clearly that the Coalition can do more – there is so much to be done. Also, we’ve created a healthy, trauma informed, and FUN work culture. I don’t just like working with our staff team, I like them as people! Our extended team (Board, Advisors, partners, volunteers) is made up of many of the people I respect most on the planet. So deciding to transition was not easy, it actually doesn’t even make that much sense!

Often times though, friends, this is how God works. Things that don’t make a lot of sense are placed on our hearts and we trust and take that step, often with a mix of emotions ranging from excitement to doubt to “really God are you sure?!”. I am at peace knowing that as this change takes place, even though it will be challenging, will also create an even stronger Coalition. I pray it will serve to expand the work of bringing freedom to those who are oppressed in the name of Jesus.

What’s next for me?

This is this the question! I’m reflecting on the past fifteen years and exploring what’s next. For now, I am grateful to have a short term job working with Melissa Gomez and the team at PACT (Preventing and Addressing Child Trafficking), a project of the Family and Child Institute of California. Since November, I have been working part time as the Central Valley Regional Coordinator, helping to establish a new Central Valley Cohort. We engage county child welfare agencies and their partners to work to improve service delivery to children and youth at risk of or experiencing sex and/or labor trafficking. It’s been very exciting to help launch this project, and to see how well my roles with both organizations intersect. I’ve learned quite a lot from some incredible people already! I also love sharing with counties across the state about the truly ground breaking work our Coalition is doing with our youth programs and new Youth Coalition, SEE).

What’s next for the Coalition?

We are hiring! We’ve been searching to fill an open position on our staff for a few months already. This position was carefully put together by our staff and Board. The job description outlines the areas we most need support in to move us into this new year and decade of work. It is a combination of pieces of my role and pieces that were formerly part of an Administrator position.

Hurry! The deadline to apply is January 31, 2021! Interviews are being scheduled for the first week of February.

How can YOU help? Thanks for asking! (True to Coalition style, we involve the whole community…) Please, share the job posting and put us in contact with anyone you think may be a good candidate! It’s crucial to find the right person, and we are praying for God to show us who that is very soon. We want someone with strong leadership and administrator skills who has experience working with vulnerable populations. This person will be highly detail oriented, and will take us to a higher level of efficiency as an organization so we can reach more people.

Download the Job Description

If you are reading this, and considering whether you might want to join this incredible team, send your resume to us at info@justiceco.org. I may be biased, but I think that you’ll be hard pressed to find a better team to work with, or a more compelling mission to move forward.

-jessica pittman, founder

On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day last year (January 11, 2020), I spent my time quite differently than usual: I was out of town, helping at a funeral. I was in charge of Skyping in my friend’s family, located in Cameroon, into a funeral in Turlock in honor of Margie Edmiston. (Not my “normal” funeral role, you see. Not that I have one…)

I had known Margie since I was four; she was mother of one of my life long friends, Stacey Hare. It was a beautiful service, and to appreciate it you need to know a bit about my friend Stacey. She and her family live in Cameroon and are church planters / Bible translators for the Bakoum people. This group of about 10,000 people are in a rural area of the country, and until Stacey and her husband Dave arrived several years back, did not have a written language. Now they have not just a Kwakum alphabet, but also the beginnings of a church, and Jesus is transforming their community. Stacey and I try to talk every few months and have been prayer partners intentionally for the past twenty years or more. Sometimes, I get off the phone with her and am so burdened by the stories she shares…the rape that is normal as soon as a young girl begins to hit puberty, the violence against women that is an accepted part of the culture in general, the children who are exposed to the darkest parts of humanity at way too young an age. There is a lot of brokenness and it’s been passed down for generations. Yet now they are seeing another way to live. They are are hearing of and learning to read about a God who loves them in radical ways. In their own language.

In this place, as I believe is true of every place on this planet, there are beautiful people filled with resilient joy. Beautiful like the women, men and children who have survived trafficking and exploitation; some who I’ve been walking along side for over a decade.

When Stacey’s mom passed away this past year after a 3 1/2 year struggle with cancer, Stacey traveled back to the Central Valley, where we both grew up, and spent two weeks here for the funeral. As she processed and grieved, she also happened to find out that her mom left her possessions entirely to her.

“One of my friends [in Cameroon], with her whole 3rd grade education, was dreaming up ways to cure my Mom of cancer. She came to my house the other day happy because she thought she thought up a machine to take the cancer out of her body. Others have wept with me, they have offered to come to America with me so I wouldn’t have to go through this “alone,” and they have prayed with me.”Stacey Hare’s blog, January 1, 2020

Two days after the funeral, Stacey called and asked me if we could use any clothes, jewelry, shoes (oh so many shoes) for the people we work with affected by human trafficking. In honor of Margie Edmiston, she drove down to our office in Fresno and donated all of them to the Justice Coalition and our partners. Because of so much untold history, and my friendship with Stacey and her family that led to this happening, it is hard to put into words the incredible honor and and humility I felt.

Stacey, her daughter, and her father Dan when they dropped off Margie’s personal belongings to our office (January, 2020). Margie was a beautiful woman who loved Jesus and people with her whole heart. She also loved shopping!

This is the way God orchestrates his kingdom work. Margie and Dan raise a daughter who dedicates her life to following Jesus. She and her husband Dave adopt four children, and become literacy workers and Bible translators in Cameroon. God uses them and a team of local leaders to bring education and hope to a village in Africa. And in the midst of this, they circle back and provide for women here in the Central Valley who have lived through trafficking and exploitation.

I started this blog about a year ago right after this all happened. I’ve returned to try to finish it a few times. We’ve managed to survive this crazy year, and lo and behold, tomorrow is National Human Trafficking Awareness day, again.

(Side note?! This one is also special, for different reasons. It’s been exactly 10 years since the Justice Coalition’s first major awareness event – Make Slavery History, our debut as an Coalition on January 11, 2011.)

I just spoke with Stacey last week, and we were talking about a few small yet meaningful ways our work has intersected. Aside from the fact that we have prayed for each other for years, the impact is also tangible. Many women I don’t know, and a handful that I do, have received something from Stacey’s mother that has in some way has made their life better. A warm, well kept jacket. A piece of nice jewelry. A dress for special occasions.

Everyone in Stacey’s community knows that after Margie passed away, her possessions were not sold for profit or put into storage somewhere. They were donated to provide for and bless women who have been bought and sold. Stacey has shared with people who are just learning about Jesus of our work here in little Fresno. She has shared why pornography is dark and harmful to everyone, and that it both fuels and masks human trafficking. She has taught others that followers of Christ live differently, and respect all men, women and children, in real life and on screens.

Hours of labor and prayer from people all over have enabled the Hare’s to start this life long work they are committed to in Cameroon. It is reaching far and wide affecting tens of thousands of people. Hours of labor and prayer from people all over have enabled the Coalition to grow from a tiny volunteer group of pastors and activists into an organization reaching tens of thousands of people.

We can do so much more through partnerships that God in his wisdom has orchestrated to grow his kingdom. He’s woven together pieces of our stories, and created new ways for those who are most vulnerable to hear about hope and freedom.

So, as you look go through your things and take donations somewhere this year, do it intentionally. (Let me be clear, the point here is not necessarily to call us!) As you think about how to use the stimulus check you may have received, pray about how you can use it to help someone else. As you wonder what you can really do about the trauma happening everywhere due to Covid-19, systemic racism and injustice, and extreme global poverty…

take a deep breath.

And then take a step, even if it seems tiny. Do one thing.

2021 has started off in our nation in a way that again highlights the dark side of humanity within our own history. Through the events that happened at the Capitol Hill (and elsewhere) this past week, we witnessed once more the behavior of people in a society that has been built upon the exploitation of others. This is not unique to the United States, friends. But, it happens to be where I live, and it’s happening now. So in more ways than one, I am responsible. WE are responsible. My hope is that as we continue living in this reality, we muster every bit of strength and courage we have and we lean in. We lament, grieve, and work to be part of real solutions. We seek God.

We ask ourselves, what does it truly look like to follow Jesus at such as time as this?

And, what does it mean to be aware of slavery and human trafficking in such a time as this?

With no easy answers,

Jessica Pittman, Founder

To donate or learn more about the work of the Hare’s in Cameroon visit their website. Donate here to support the Justice Coalition

As 2020 comes to a close, it’s natural to want to ask ‘What’s Next?’ It’s been a rough year, by all measurements. But, instead, what if we ask ‘Who’s Next?’

It’s been a brutal year, one that many of us can’t wait to put in the rearview mirror. Yet, for us at the Justice Coalition, it wasn’t ONLY bad news. Several unexpected donations helped us keep everyone employed through the spring and summer. We were able to qualify for the PPP program as part of the CARES Act, which helped give us certainty during the grimmest parts of the shutdown that we could keep operating on new, hybrid-work-schedules. 

Still, it’s been a year of transition, as new realities for homeschooling and natural life change ultimately meant that we lost staff hours and now need to find a new team member in 2021. Through it all, our supporters have come through for our crucial human trafficking prevention work. Our Freedom Fund was our biggest fundraising effort to date, a triumph only made possible by the generosity of ordinary people during a very extraordinary global pandemic.

Throughout all of this upheaval, bad news has continued to pour in about vulnerable young people being exploited by traffickers and predators. This Fresno Bee article details the horrifying story of a young girl whose online grooming/abuse led to an attempted abduction that was thankfully foiled by local authorities. As the year concludes it’s time to ask not just what is next but who will be targeted next?

As of today, December 31, we have reached 95% of our budgeted income for the year. That budgeted number, $241,450, might be smaller than many people realize as we operate a very lean and volunteer-dependent organization. Expenses were unexpectedly less as we had to pause some big plans and pivot to new ways of prevention education to stop trafficking before it starts.We believe that we will resume full operations in 2021. Beyond that, we have added services, like case management for pre-victims of human trafficking, that have become more necessary during this year and will continue to be needed as we go forward.One of the great joys of this year has been the NEW and UNEXPECTED partners that have emerged during the times when we needed it most. A friend of mine once said, as we speculated together on the timing of a particular promised donation, “God will bring it when you need it most.”

At this point, we also ask the question who will be the next unexpected blessing?Can you help us make up that last 5%? Will you be one of the answers to the question “Who’s Next?’ I know this is a long email. TL;DR – We’re still here, still growing and we need your help to make 2021 our most impactful one yet!

– Ryan Townsend, executive director

thoughts from Jessica Pittman, Founder

There are things in this world that are dark and evil, and we know that human trafficking is one of them. For me, as for many others, we engage in this work because we feel a sense of desperation on behalf of those it affects. We are desperate on their behalf and we are surely desperate that it doesn’t happen to us or people we love.  For some people who I care for and deeply respect, it’s already happened. We are desperate to see it end and to see healing, hope, and freedom come meet humanity where there has been much pain.

Over the years, after the initial horror of trafficking wears off a bit, it can be difficult to convey the same sense of desperation. We as leaders sometimes watch as we see others using sensationalism to manipulate or mislead people. This can be intentional or completely unintentional. It presents a false view of the reality of trafficking. It propels myths forward, making it more difficult for people who are trapped in tragically “normal”, non-glorified ways to get help or to feel like their situations are worth addressing.  We see horrible images, hear dramatic stories, and are asked to respond. We are sometimes left recovering from images and stories of trauma that may not be real or helpful. And eventually, we may grow numb. 

the wall at the border of San Diego and Tijuana, 2019

The place we find ourselves in now is a world full of desperation in a way many of us haven’t experienced in our lifetime. I confess I don’t know what it feels like to be desperate in the way that many of the people we work with have been. However, I have felt desperate. I think most of us have. The most recent time I felt this was this summer when I watched my 5 year old son fall from a tree house and land on his back on my watch.  I felt a sense of panic I haven’t felt before, not knowing if he would be okay or if his injuries would be life long. Even in the midst of my primary concern for his life and health, I felt conflicted, uncertain as to what to do next that would help him the most. I felt a flood of guilt, thinking I should have done something to prevent the fall. The wave of emotion was a fairly quick experience for me, and it was a but tiny sliver of what it may feel like to live with or grow up in trauma. Many of those we work with – and maybe this is your story today – you grew up without enough food in your house, or without a real home. Without the protection of a love that looks out for your best interest. You may have been surrounded by chaos and stuck a community that takes advantage of vulnerability instead of protects it. Perhaps love has been connected to pain and abuse.

This month, I was listening in on a panel, and a young person who was a survivor of sex trafficking shared her perspective on the current health crisis. She shared how it’s impacted her and her peers who are also survivors, who are in the welfare system. She shared that during this time, the most important thing has been to find one person in the system that she can trust and build a connection with. She says that her friends don’t always find that. She says they all know there are resources out there, but they don’t always connect well with any of their assigned workers (even though their workers may be doing all they can). Sometimes their workers don’t know how to access what they need. When they need basic help (food, housing, bus tickets, a phone, etc), their requests often get lost in a long chain of people and takes so long that many just give up waiting and go back to the streets. (shared with permission.)

They go back because they don’t know how else to get what they need, and they feel desperate. 

In this past year, amid the many twists and turns, and we have had several organizations reach out to us for support for high risk youth. In my work across the state with PACT (Preventing and Addressing Child Trafficking), I am hearing many counties identify the lack of people or safe places who can help these youth and reach them, especially when they are high risk. Some aren’t sure what to do with kids who don’t identify as specifically as victims. Many don’t have a Central Valley Justice Coalition who will take their referrals, assess, start a mentoring process, and put together a safety or educational plan. They don’t have a nonprofit running prevention programs for teen boys and girls. The don’t have a team of experts offering parents and caregivers live workshops or recorded classes and resources for online safety.  

I am proud and also humbled that our organization can offer this gift to the community. That we can step in and kids can receive help and have an advocate quickly. That we are not bound by red tape, and we can assess needs and respond. And we will share, when appropriate to anyone who wants to know, that we do it in the name of Jesus on behalf of his people, who truly do care. 

Praying in the red light district in Prague, 2007, on the trip that inspired the forming of the Justice Coalition.

Not to try to fool you all – we don’t always get it right. We don’t always respond as quickly as we would like and this fall we quickly reached out capacity and had to turn away clients due to our capacity. We will absolutely always be learning, trying to do it better, and we are beyond grateful to our partners in the work who fill in the pieces we cannot provide.

But we know that there is a desperate need that we continue to do this work. You see, we know a path out, into freedom. We’ve worked the past ten to fifteen years to blaze the trail and help form it.

So today we want to be clear – there is a growing desperate need for your support now more than ever.  There are young kids right now who may not know it, but we may be their bridge to a different, new future. We hold tools they need in order to be empowered to make the best choices they possibly can within the situations they are in. 

We hope and pray you’ll join us. That you’ll keep giving, keep spreading the word.

Know that through your prayers, your time, and your financial sacrifice you are part of reaching someone who may be in a desperate moment even now. 

We are so aware that we don’t save or rescue anyone. We believe only God does that. We are simply grateful and willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the best way we know how. We invite you to join us because there is much work to do. The workers are few. Thank you for giving what God puts in your heart to give and for trusting us and God to multiply it.

Help us fill in the rest of the puzzle pieces and reach our goal of $50,000 by December 15th!

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!