One More Piece of the Puzzel

I want you to get out there and walk-better yet run!- on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline-not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourself out for each other in acts of love…”

-Ephesians 4:1-13-

The women that I have worked with at Shared Hope International give of themselves every day. They are truly following the road that God has set before them. They have a passion, a drive, to raise awareness about sex trafficking. They have dedicated their lives to making sure that every woman and man is treated like a human being, not like someone else’s property. They are committed to ridding our culture of this horrible plague, no matter how bumpy the road or how difficult the climb.

Interns with our founder former Congresswomen Linda Smith.

Interns with our founder former Congresswomen Linda Smith.

Over the past three months I have had the privilege to take part in the 2012 Protected Innocence Challenge, the promotion and organization of Sharing the Hope, our biggest event of the year, and have been introduced to detectives, community members, service providers, law enforcement, and survivors fighting to make a change. I cannot put into words how grateful and honored I am to have worked with such outstanding people. The last two days, while working the Sharing the Hope event, I have been able to see first-hand the amazing work that the people of Shared Hope have done. Close to 300 people, from 30 different states, from every walk of life, came to our event to be educated about domestic minor sex trafficking. We had law enforcement, prosecutors, youth advocates, community advocates, juvenile service providers, and defenders who gave up their whole weekend to be trained in recognizing and protecting “Lacy.” At Shared Hope “Lacy” represents daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, any young girl who could become a victim of sex trafficking. It was incredible to see the collaboration of so many different organizations and people willing to work together for the same goal, to one day see the end of human trafficking.

Those who received Pathbreaker awards.

Those who received Pathbreaker awards.

Part of the weekend was a gala to honor those who are working to prevent sex trafficking. We presented four individuals with the Pathbreaker Awards because they have been paving the path year after year to bring justice, protect victims, find resources for victims, and to raise awareness domestically and internationally in the issue of human trafficking. Ernie Allen, President and CEO for International Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Amy O’Neill Richard, Senior Advisor to the Director, U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Deborah J. Richardson, Executive Vice President of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; and Drew G. Oosterbaan, Chief of Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, were all presented Pathbreaker awards for the great work that they have been doing. These men and women are just a few who are making changes in the way our children are treated and the way victims are seen.

Survivor Rebecca Bender

Survivor and advocate Rebecca Bender

Not only did we have community members attending the event, but close to 40 survivors stood with their heads held high, fighting to make sure their voices were heard. Shamere, an incredible woman that I have had the privilege to work with, proclaimed that she was fighting, not for herself, but for the girls still enslaved, the girls trapped in a world of violence, hate, and injustice. I met women who were once living in hell. Yet as I talked to them they glowed with strength and beauty. They are mothers, writers, bakers, mentors, students, founders of organizations for other victims, and as Pastor Sean Wrench said last night, over-comers  They lived a life I could not imagine, I do not pretend to understand the pain they have gone through, but that is not who they are today. They are inspirations for us all. They are truly beautiful women, who have beaten the odds, and who have prevailed.

The impact of Shared Hope stretches far. In 2012 alone they have trained 1,300 people at 7 Do You Know Lacy? trainings,  another 1,100 service providers to intervene on behalf of victimized children,

SHI billboards

SHI billboards

had 21 billboards in 8 states to expose the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking,  influenced states to pass 240 new state bills, equipped 171 women with job skills, allowed 147 women and children to receive shelter, added 318 men to their defenders program, had 15 states raise their grade because of the Protected Innocence Challenge, trained 115 Ambassadors of Hope to lead anti-trafficking efforts in their communities, and trained 1,900 individuals on the Protected Innocence Challenge across the U.S. They are committed to making a change.

William Wilberforce, stated about slavery in the 18th century, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” I know more now than I did when I started and I hope to continue to learn. Now that I do know about modern-day slavery and have met survivors, I can’t turn away. My road has been set before me. My time with this unique and inspirational organization is drawing to an end, but my journey is just beginning. I want to thank everyone I have worked with for inspiring encouraging me.  I will be staying in DC to work at a journalism center. From my work with Shared Hope, I have found the road God is calling me to take. I want to write, to raise awareness on human rights and social justice issues. I want to make people feel, to call people to stand up and do something about the injustice in our world. I want to focus on the people, the everyday men and women who are making a difference somewhere in the world. I cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunity to work with Shared Hope. Through this organization another piece of my puzzle has fallen into place and I am excited to see what lies ahead of me.

Interns for Shared Hope.

Interns for Shared Hope.

Standing in front of the new state grades. 15 states improved. Still no A's though.

Standing in front of the new state grades. 15 states improved. Still no A’s though.