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.
On January 16th, the RC of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking sponsored the Los Angeles leg of the California Rotary Human Trafficking Prevention Campaign. Approximately 25 Rotarians participated in a noncompetitive 5K walk to raise awareness about the very serious issue of human trafficking, both labor and sexual exploitation of people of all ages and genders, as well as all socio and economic groups, within the Los Angeles region. Rotarians from the D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking Rotary Club were joined by other Rotarians from Playa Venice Rotary, Rancho Park Rotary, Westchester Rotary, Manhattan Beach Rotary, South Bay Sunrise Rotary and Santa Monica Rotary. The walkers were led by Rob DeCou, Ultra Athlete and Rotarian. Thanks to the generosity of the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation, District Governor Guity Javid presented $1000 checks to each of the keynote speakers from Journey Out and In Our Backyard, nonprofits assisting victims and survivors of human trafficking, as well as providing the site for the start and finish of the walk.
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is recognized each year on January 11. In recognition of this important day, the Rotary Club of Downey by going blue. Every single person in the club wore something blue, ranging from a blue sports coat with blue and white striped shirt and a blue pocket square, to blue flowered blouses for the women, and assorted blue polo shirts and occasionally blue jeans for the men. It was only a small gesture, but each person took the time to find something blue, and that meant they were thinking of the purpose for doing so. That means the consciousness of each member was raised on the subject, for that day.
Above, Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik and Eastvale Mayor Clint Lorimore pose with philanthropist Gail Moore at Rotary District 5330's Community Fundraising Dinner to Fight Against Human Trafficking on Jan. 29, 2022.
On January 25th, Thai CDC was awarded the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. This prestigious award from President Biden was presented online instead of in-person at our nation's capital due to COVID.
The presentation of the award typically takes place during the annual Cabinet-level meeting of the Presidential Inter-agency Task Force which coordinates the US government's effort to combat all forms of human trafficking.
President Biden's cabinet member, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, appeared on the screen alongside Thai CDC's live feed and presented the award.
For the video of the presentation of the Presidential Award by US Secretary of State Blinken to Thai CDC, please go to the minute mark 33:42: https://www.state.gov/the-presidents-interagency-task-force/
The Thai CDC staff, volunteers, and interns who have worked diligently and tirelessly to serve trafficked victims and combat human trafficking over the years are truly grateful for being uplifted in such an auspicious and high-level way. Thai CDC has been at the forefront of fighting this violation of fundamental human rights for almost three decades.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels as our work to bring justice, redress and restitution to victims and survivors and make them whole again continues as sadly, this scourge known as human trafficking continues unabated.
We dedicate this recognition and honor at our country's highest level to the survivors whose resilience is awe-inspiring and to our family, friends, donors, community partners, and past and present staff, interns, and board whose support keeps us going.
An Op-Ed piece that we wrote on human trafficking was also released following our being awarded. The link to the piece is here: https://citywatchla.com/index.php/375-voices/23700-strong-community-ties-can-curb-one-of-l-a-s-biggest-growth-industries-human-trafficking
On October 19, 2021, the Las Vegas Summerlin Rotary Club sponsored the Child Sex Trafficking: Are Your Kids at Risk? Grassroots Forum. The panelists were: Lt. Bill Matchko, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department VicSex Traffickine &g Investigations Section; Judge William Voy, Clark County Specialty Court for Sexually Exploited Youth; Kathleen Khal, Director, HUB - affiliated with Hope Church; and Dr. Christina Vela, CEO, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.
The 90-minute forum begins the process of educating the public about children sex trafficking in Southern Nevada and the physical and emotional abuse these victims suffer. Although there are judicial, law enforcement and social service programs in place to deal with the issue, they are overwhemled and underbudget and barely scrape off the tip of the iceberg. More needs to be done to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens, children.
Las Vegas Summerlin Rotary Club and District 5300 is partnering to extend our grassroots a campaign into the Southern California area of the district. The club has been closely working with DG-elect Roger Gutiérrez and PDG Tom Novotny on the project.
Here is a link to the October 19 forum. The forum was the opening story of Channel 8's 11 p.m. News on October 19, 2021. Here is a link to the story. There was a story published in News Break. Here's the link.
The forum is the opening salvo for our grasssroots movement and creates a model for other clubs in the district to follow. I know some clubs have already taken steps to move forward on addressing child sex trafficking in their communities and others are waiting in the wings. I'm available to consult with other clubs to assist them in developing similar programs in their respective communities.
Thank you for you support of Child Sex Trafficking: Are Your Kids at Risk? Grassroots Movement in Southern Nevada and Southern California.
Left to right: Moderator Michael Turner, president of the Las Vegas Summerlin Rotary Club; Lt. William Matcho, Vice and Sex Trafficking Section, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Dr. Christina Vela, CEO, St. Jude's Ranch for Children; Judge William Voy, Clark County Specialty Court for Sexually Exploited Youth; and Kathleen Khal, director HUB Las Vegas, Hope Church.
UCLA students under the guidance of Lucy Tseng, President-Elect of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking Club, composed over 80 letters to survivors of human trafficking.
Rotarians, family and friends attended Book Signing Event at The Book Jewel in Westchester. Journalist, poet and photographer, Ferne Saltzman, shared the story behind her book, Facets of My Soul, also reciting three of her poems. Guests purchased books for Ferne to autograph. Ferne is a member of the Rotary Club of D5280 Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking. She is donating all of the proceeds, through the collaboration with her Rotary Club, to nonprofits assisting victims and survivors in their journey out of the life.“
You may visit Rotarian Ferne’s website at https://leadingwithmyheart.org/. You may “Order Today” from the homepage.
A 12-month calendar with beautiful full-color images are representative of a backstory in the lives of 12 empowered people whose story can be found on the back cover of the calendar.
Proceeds from pre-sales of the calendar through September 2021 will go directly to support Rotary International projects to end human trafficking.
Calendars include inspirational stories of empowerment, overcoming obstacles and human trafficking. They can be preordered through September 30, 2021 at https://bit.ly/3qeBEEB for $12.25, a discount of 25%, plus tax and shipping. The calendars will ship in November. A full description and thumbnail of the calendar is on the website.
A substantial sum from each presale calendar is being donated to The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International projects for the prevention and elimination of labor and sex trafficking. Funds donated may be matched by TRF depending upon grant use conditions.