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Because human trafficking is a hidden crime which can only be eradicated by an informed public supporting professional law enforcement and service providers, our mission is to bring the issue of human trafficking to the forefront of public awareness:
- By empowering individual communities to take action through education, training and the coordination of resources.
- By creating partnerships of informed communities to share information, programs, experiences and best practices in order to make the work of each partner more effective and to extend efforts beyond local jurisdictions.
- By supporting primary research and disseminating information and developing preventative programs.
Our work began in 2004, when women from the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva, including our Executive Director, Nola Theiss, asked the Lee County, FL Sheriff to organize a human trafficking task force. At the very first meeting, a human service provider reported a suspected victim. Three weeks later, four traffickers were arrested and the young girl who had been held captive for years and forced into domestic servitude and sex slavery received care under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act. The case was successfully prosecuted and the traffickers are currently in federal prison.
Nola Theiss has served as a leader and organizer of that task force from the beginning. She began speaking on the subject throughout the region in 2005. Since then, Nola Theiss and HTAP board members and employees have spoken to over 24,000 people in the U.S. and five countries. HTAP continues to evolve and transform its services to fit the needs of the community. While HTAP has been successful at establishing coalitions and task forces and works closely with the SWFL Regional Human Trafficking Coalition, HTAP aims not only to educate community leaders and professionals, but teaches children and teens about the dangers and warning signs of human trafficking here in the United States so as to prevent them from becoming victims of human trafficking. Through its ARTREACH and TIPS programs, HTAP targets the same children whom traffickers target. What we offer them is education and empowerment so they won’t be lured into modern day slavery. We have touched hundreds of children directly and through their artwork, they have reached thousands more.
Since 2010, it has conducted 25 ARTREACH programs which are aimed at educating high risk kids about human trafficking. Picture kids in a room, working in groups, asking questions and creating artwork which will educate others about trafficking. Now picture that most of the kids are girls, yet we know that trafficking affects boys. Picture that most of the kids are between 10 and 15, yet younger and older kids also need the information, perhaps pitched in a different way. While we have been reaching many kids from many different cultures, our plan for this grant is to make a concerted effort to reach out to ethnic cultures we haven’t yet reached in a knowledgeable way in partnership with the adults who currently work with them. We aim to reach both girls and boys, younger and older kids, kids from Haiti, immigrant and first generation children, domestic minors, at risk and high risk kids including foster kids. We also plan on continuing to work with our existing community partners, ACT, Saluscare, Boys and Girls Clubs, Our Mothers Home, Pine Manor Association and Heights Center and bringing in new partners.
We call our program "The ARTREACH Community Wheel" which will roll into the communities that count on us and the communities we have not yet touched. It will involve leaders of the communities to join with us so we can be most effective in reaching their kids while continuing to work with our current partners who ask us to return every year. We will be reaching boys and girls, kids from 8 to 18, kids in the African American, Latino, Haitian communities, migrant children and domestic minors and foster kids.
- Jacklynn Rivera
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