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!

Arien Garcia was instrumental in getting AB 262 passed and signed into law in 2021

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!

“Now, a year into the work, we’ve had the opportunity to reach almost two dozen youth with direct services…”

Arien garcia
Arien shares in this video, giving her perspective as a human trafficking survivor and professional educator in the field

We are excited to announce that Freedom Fund 21 is 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.

Joined by survivors, including our own Arien Garcia, as well as Fresno’s mayor and police chief, Assemblymember Jim Patterson announced the passage of a bill that would allow human trafficking survivors to have their records cleared of non-violent crimes within a reasonable amount of time after escaping the life.

At the Justice Coalition, we sincerely believe that legislation like CA Assembly Bill 262 represents a step in the right direction for survivors of human trafficking who have been coerced into committing crimes by those who enslaved and exploited them. We are grateful that Governor Newsom signed this bill into law and are so proud to stand beside Arien Pauls Garcia as she tirelessly advocates for change. Not only does Arien use her voice publicly but she also privately has helped dozens of pre-victim adolescent clients this year alone through our youth prevention programming.

Read more about the process of getting AB 262 passed and signed into law:

KMJ story from Reporter Liz Kern

Fresno Bee article by Melissa Montalvo

It would be an understatement to say that the last 18 months have been a challenging time for us at the Justice Coalition. As the light dawned on 2021, we were presented with an opportunity to streamline our operations through converting two vacated part-time positions into a full-time associate director role. We conducted a thorough search and found the perfect candidate, Dan Carter, for the job.

Only trouble was, as she is a foreign national from Australia, we would need to get a work visa. What we thought would take 6 weeks wound up taking 22 instead but praise God, she has now finally been able to start! I can’t thank all you enough for your support, encouragement and prayers during these trying times.

As an education organization working with vulnerable populations, primarily through in-person presentations, trainings and gatherings, it’s been difficult (the last year plus) to measure our impact using the methods we spent years developing. Yet, even when we haven’t been able to see our efforts produce the numerical impact we desire, this time has been far from wasted.

Currently, we are doing the hard work to streamline our systems and increase our capacity because we know that our mission has never been more important than it is now! With Dan, Arien and myself we now have three full-time staff for the first time in our history and we are joined by Christa, Marissa and Jessica in part-time roles. As we move into the always busy fall season, requests for speakers and classes are skyrocketing. Like a cellphone plugged in overnight (or in this case for the last 8 months) we are charged up and ready to go!

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!