We are pleased to announce some exciting news: Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI) and Freekind, formerly Virginia Beach Justice Initiative (VBJI) are merging together! Through the joining of our two organizations, we will create an even greater impact in our communities and nation into the future together!
Both RJI and Freekind began as organizations focused on raising awareness and assessing the greatest anti-trafficking needs in our communities. As RJI evolved, it began focusing its resources on preventing human trafficking by creating the Prevention Project™ program, a nationally recognized, award-winning program launched in Virginia in 2012 and now licensed in 18 states. The Prevention Project program includes curricula designed for both middle and high school students and training for youth service providers such as counselors, teachers, social workers, and administrators, equipping them to strengthen the safety net for students.
Meanwhile, Freekind™ focused its work on restorative services for victims, creating Offramps, a program that includes jail-based classes to help identify victims, court support to advocate for alternative sentencing, re-entry planning to create a path to freedom, and transitional support as survivors reintegrate into the community. Freekind has also prioritized human trafficking prevention, partnering with RJI to expand the Prevention Project program throughout Virginia.
We have much to celebrate, including the launch into the 10th year of the Prevention Project program in schools, a record year for both organizations programmatically, and this merger! We want to thank Jessica Willis, RJI’s CEO for her phenomenal dedication and leadership, as she is transitioning out of the organization after 12 years of service, the longest leadership tenure in RJI’s history. Jessica began volunteering with RJI in its founding year, was asked to come on staff in 2013 to manage the budding Prevention Project program and was unanimously elected to lead the organization in 2016, serving as CEO for five years. “Words fall short of expressing our deep gratitude to Jessica as she has stewarded our organization and programs with such honor, integrity, and grit and we are pleased to present her with the inaugural Faithful Leadership Award,” shared Mike Lico, RJI Board Chair.
Lisa Kersey has served with Freekind for four years, first as a volunteer and now as Executive Director, and will be leading the merged organization. Willis and Kersey have collaborated and strengthened the partnership between RJI and Freekind over the years, working even more closely in recent months toward a thoughtful and successful merger. “Freekind is honored to combine our organizational efforts,” said Kersey. “As a merged organization, Freekind will address both ends of the spectrum: supporting those who have already been exploited on their journey to freedom and working to prevent the next generation from being trafficked.”
Through Freekind, the Prevention Project and Offramps programs will continue to flourish. “I encourage all of our supporters to lean in as this new chapter begins, to stay involved and continue supporting the work through our merged organization, Freekind,” said Willis. “You can make an even greater difference by supporting the efforts of the merged organization, and we are excited about the new opportunities for growth and expanded impact that this merger makes possible!”
“As two Virginia-founded, faith-based organizations dedicated to anti-trafficking work, joining forces will allow us to grow our impact exponentially” said Faye Antezana, Freekind’s board chair. “We are excited for this next chapter as we continue to expand our efforts to prevent trafficking and rebuild lives, restoring freedom, hope and belonging.”
We want to thank all of our donors and partners and team members for your key support that has made it possible to reach over 42,000 youth since the launch of the Prevention Project program in schools!
As the program is now stewarded under the merged organization, Freekind, we are excited to see how the curriculum grows to reach more students and impact more lives!