Approximately 200 paid $20 to attend a Rotary fundraising event focused on ending human
trafficking across greater Des Moines, Iowa. Each of the sponsoring clubs matched the funds raised at the Rotary-sponsored event, which added up to a grand total of $40,000. All net proceeds will be donated to local nonprofits fighting human trafficking.
Presented by the Greater Des Moines Rotary Multi-Club Committee, the event was held at the Hilton Garden Inn in West Des Moines on May 2nd. Participants learned from some of Iowa's local heroes fighting this important issue. Their excellent panel of speakers included:
Iowa Rotary District 6000 is made up of 67 local clubs. Twenty of these clubs have formed a Prevent Trafficking Action Team. Each Rotary Club has committed to launching a prevention/education program in their local community. The Des Moines Rotary Multi-Club’s May 2nd event is their major local educational program. The Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking is collaborating with the Rotary Action Team and providing educational materials.
Rancho Santa Fe Rotarian Don Meredith, together with former Navy pilot and film director
Doug Lito from West Hollywood, created a short PSA film about human trafficking called “The
Signal.” The film features the new SOS signal, a quick hand gesture for victims to let bystanders
subtly know they are in distress and that they “Need HELP, and to Get HELP!”. The film was
co-directed by Marine Combat Videographer Phillip Elgie and Christina Rheuby.
The short film, released in January 2019, was recently recognized by the television industry’s
2022 Telly Awards. The shortened 15-second version has exploded on social media and has had
over a million views since its release in March 2022.
The film was inspired by RSF Rotary’s focus on human trafficking. Meredith, who has been a
Rancho Santa Fe Rotarian for 21 years, listened to multiple speakers at weekly Rotary meetings
on the topic and became aware of the severity and extensiveness of human trafficking around
the world. He wanted to help and the idea simply came to him in a dream.
The impetus now is getting the film and the shortened clip out to as many people as possible so
that victims are aware of the discrete SOS hand signal and that the general populace knows how
to recognize the signal and what to do next.
The national human trafficking hotline is 1-888-373-7888. To view “The Signal” PSA and view
the 15-second condensed version, go to: sharethesignal.com
Each year, we pause to gather, celebrate and support the incredible youth and families served at Optimist Youth Homes and Family Service, a Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking partner.
In October, the group celebrated the incredible life-changing work at Optimist and honored two champions for children, Matt Ware and Dennis Andolsek. The group also heard stories of success, including Lourdes Pichardo, a foster parent who has opened her home to over 70 children; the Luppers, a foster family with personal ties to the foster care system; and Dacia, a young lady who, having spent the majority of her childhood in the foster care system, has thrived due to her resiliency and the support of her foster family and staff at Optimist.
Click here to access a short video from one of our current foster youth.
Rotary Club of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking
In recognition of National Slavery And Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and in partnership with nonprofit iEmpathize, the cause-based Rotary Club of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking sponsored “The Apathy Effect Exhibit,” which was graciously hosted by the Westchester Family YMCA on January 21st and 22nd , 2023. The Exhibit dramatically depicts the horrors of a lucrative criminal activity, second only to drug trafficking, which impacts and can enslave ALL ages and genders, as well as all geographic and socio economic groups.
Rotary Club of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking
"On Nov. 11, 2022, Margi and Randi met Peju and Sophie at Saving Innocence to prepare 15 bags for trafficked victims who want to travel outside the state back home. Our Rotary club donated the funds to purchase the items that went into the bags and together we packaged the bags with a t-shirt, sweatpants, slippers, Addidas slides, a blanket, and hygiene items such as shampoo/conditioner, toothbrush/toothpaste, lotion, deodorant, lip balm, and a brush. After completing the bags we helped organize bins and bins of donated items into labeled bins that are used for victims to come and take what they need and also for employees of Saving Innocence to use for emergency items when called upon to help a victim in need."
– Randi Elasowich
Don Meredith, Past President of the Rotary Club of Rancho Santa Fe, California, is working to promote this new hand signal that he hopes will save lives and get human traffiicking victims to safety.
This is one of several short videos on various media. It is also in Spanish and 9 dialects being deployed in India soon.
The Signal is proving to be an effective outreach.
I’m thrilled to announce that this week, Free to Thrive completed our 500th legal matter on behalf of our incredible survivor clients!!!! This milestone represents hundreds of individual stories and lives changed forever. Every single legal matter we work on symbolizes a legal barrier that stands between our clients and freedom from exploitation. Among these 500 legal matters, we’ve successfully cleared 215 criminal records through 45 petitions! These matters also include getting law enforcement agencies to destroy these records pursuant to court orders – which is sometimes even more difficult than getting the court to make these orders. When we succeed in clearing a client’s record, it clears a path to housing, employment and financial stability. We’ve also helped 47 clients obtain restraining orders, 43 get or increase custody of their children, 13 change their names and/or gender markers, and so much more!
This work would not be possible without our dedicated staff, board members, donors, pro bono attorneys, interns, volunteers, and community partners. This truly is a team effort and YOU are a critical part of that team. I am beyond grateful for your support and the support of everyone who makes our work possible.
Thank you so much to those who will be attending our sold out Journey to Freedom event. If you are not attending in person, I hope you will join us virtually this Saturday at 7:15 PM PST to celebrate this milestone together.
With deepest gratitude,
Member of Rotary Club of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking
Rotary International D5280 Past District Governor, Cozette Vergari, working several years in the fight against human trafficking, was contacted by high school student, Madison Vieira, from Palos Verdes in the Los Angeles region, seeking to be connected with a nonprofit serving survivors of human trafficking. This started as a Girl Scout Silver Award Project. Her vision was to create a peace garden, a place for these survivors to find a safe and peaceful place. Cozette connected Madison with Alan Smyth, Executive Director for Saving Innocence. Saving Innocence is a member of the RI D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking caused based Rotary Club, and is licensed and approved as a Foster Family Agency.
Madison is excited to announce that “I completed my project yesterday (August 5, 2022).” Saving Innocence invited her to showcase her multi-sensory garden for their Middle School Graduation Party. Madison shared “I am happy that the participants can enjoy the sight of the plants, the bees and butterflies, and the fragrances of the herbs. The best part is that they can enjoy eating some of the edible plants. I was told that this was the first time that the organization had a party outdoors. Now that the backyard has a welcoming, engaging environment with herbal healing multi-sensory plants, the counselors plan on having many more events and sessions in the backyard.”
Just for added fun at the party, Madison decided to organize a garden pizza making activity, with succulent planting and pot painting projects. She made mint lemonade using fresh lemons and mint, adding a strawberry to each cup. The lemonade was a big hit. Madison included a nature trivia Q & A. For those who answered correctly, she gave them edible dirt with worms (chocolate Jell-O pudding topped with crushed Oreo cookies & gummy worms) as a prize for answering. The lunch ended with everyone frosting their very own carrot cupcake. She worked with Trader Joe's and Ralphs, who donated garden vegetables and fruit, as well as Costco, Home Depot and Loews.
Prior to the garden day presentation, Madison had been told that most graduates are not fans of vegetables, herbs, and fruit. They said that they would rather have Cheetos. However, “after I had them make their own garden pizza using fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruit, they loved all the natural ingredients so much that they ended up eating the extra raw vegetable toppings that were left over. I am so happy that Saving Innocence now has tomatoes, strawberries, rosemary, lavender, mint, peppermint, sage and other therapeutic plants in their garden.” Alan, Executive Director of Saving Innocence, shared that the staff was amazed at the effort made by Madison and how the middle school graduates raved about its success.”
Cozette was able to highlight this proposed project, plus many other of Madison’s experiences with community service and leadership accomplishments, in a letter of recommendation tied to a national award application submitted by Madison, out of which she was one of only four recipients selected, from approximately 230 applicants, for the National Junior Honor Society Outstanding Achievement Award.
When sharing this news she stated “I want to thank you again for introducing me to Saving Innocence. At the start of this project, I was nervous because I had not been to formal meetings before. I have not had the opportunity to write formal letters or had a chance to meet managers and community leaders. I learned communication and written skills along the way. Also, I gained confidence to meet with outstanding members of the community, write formal email letters, and publicly speak. This project helped me develop new skills that I had not learned at school. I plan to continue with Model United Nations in High School, so that I can educate other students on human trafficking issues. This project has been such a great and unforgettable experience!”
When Dave McCleary first heard about human trafficking, it seemed like something that happened far away, probably overseas. But not in the United States. And certainly not in his hometown.
Then one day he invited a speaker who knew otherwise to talk to his Rotary club in Roswell, Georgia. Her name was Melissa. She was originally from Roswell and had gone to the same high school McCleary’s girls had attended. Melissa dropped out at 16 and was offered a modeling job by a man who turned out to be a sex trafficker. For two years, she was trapped and trafficked in downtown Atlanta before police and a local organization helped her escape.
Students on their way to morning class at Pace Universal, a school for girls in Piyali Junction, outside Kolkata, India, that is funded in part by Rotary clubs and The Rotary Foundation. It was founded by Rotarian Deepa Biswas Willingham to educate girls and protect them from slavery, trafficking, and early childhood marriage in a community where these are common dangers for girls.
After the meeting, another Rotarian approached Melissa and gave her a big hug. McCleary asked him how he knew the young woman. He said she used to babysit his kids when she was 12, and he had wondered what had happened to her.
$50,000 Vocational Training Global Grant benefits survivors of human trafficking. The training lab is housed at C.A.S.T. (Coalition Against Sex Trafficking). The funds were provided by Rotary International District 5280 (Los Angeles Region), Rotary International District 3650 (Seoul, Korea Region), The Rotary Foundation, along with Los Angeles Region Rotary Clubs Beverly Hills, D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking, Woodland Hills, and lead club Westchester guided by Rotarian Warren Bobrow. The vocational training lab will provide opportunities for these survivors to look to a brighter future.
Nearly two dozen Rotarians attended the joint District 5340/Point Loma Nazarene University Ending Human Trafficking Summit on March 4. Nearly 300 community, government, education, law enforcement, and non-profit leaders gathered to discuss the plight of this scourge in our region and how we can jointly fight bank to end this $800 million illicit San Diego County industry.