Finally, the big night arrived. Months of endless hours planning, organizing, searching, designing, practicing, requesting, calling, and even taste testing….and now all that remained was the excitement of watching it all come together. When I first arrived at Hope Church where the RJI Benefit for Freedom was held, I was greeted by nothing but smiling faces. The joy of just playing a part in the whole event showed from Sara Pomeroy’s face, to the RJI staff members, to the student volunteers who would serve that evening. This was a night to further educate others on the issue of human trafficking, to explain to those attending what Richmond Justice Initiative was doing to combat the problem, and to show the audience how they too could play a part in putting an end to this great evil. Though the night concerned a dark and ugly subject – modern day slavery – it was to be a night which brought a message of great hope. Modern day slavery CAN be totally and completely eradicated!
The night began with a silent auction. The items donated were displayed in the grand foyer for people to explore and bid on as they entered the church. There was everything from tickets to see the Washington Redskins and Nationals play, spa treatments, art work, gift certificates to local restaurants, home décor and photography sessions to name just some of items up for auction. Bidding ended promptly at 7p.m. With that, table sponsors and their guests were then ushered into the sanctuary where they would dine for the evening. Atlee Music, led by Ross Wright, performed while everyone took their seats at the simply but beautifully decorated tables.
Elisabeth Scaife, Director of Training for Shared Hope International, opened the evening with a few words about the issue of human trafficking. She ended by introducing RJI Director, Sara Pomeroy who provided the welcome and opening remarks. The Invocation was given by Nicole Unice, Ministry Associate at Hope Church – then dinner was served. The meal this year was prepared by Firehouse Catering and a cake pop dessert was prepared by Neet’s Sweet Bakery. Firehouse Catering is part of the Boaz and Ruth ministry – a ministry that largely works with those who have been formerly incarcerated in helping them to restore their lives once they are released, through job training and relationship building. For further information on this ministry: https://www.boazandruth.com/index.cfm.
How appropriate that Neet’s Sweets should prepare the dessert. Neet’s Sweets is a bakery owned by sex trafficking survivor, Antonia Childs. Antonia uses her business to help “survivors of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and provide them with programs and services to get them back on the right track.” To learn more about Antonia’s ministry: https://www.neetssweets.com/index.html.
Our guest speaker for the night was Corban Addison, author of the novel, A Walk Across the Sun. The novel is a “chilling, suspenseful and powerful” story – a story that addresses the modern slavery issue. Corban is a gifted storyteller with a passion for human rights issues such as the abolition of human trafficking. I loved hearing his telling of how the book idea came about and the efforts that were needed to bring it to fruition. As a result of the research he did to prepare for the writing of the novel, Corban brings a wealth of information about the problem of human trafficking. Yet with the understanding of the enormity of the problem, Corban still brought a message of hope that human trafficking CAN be eradicated. He discussed what would be needed to bring it to an end – such as addressing the cultural thinking that brought it into existence and encourages it to continue even today.
The biggest highlight of the evening for me, was RJI’s – first ever – honoring of the Freedom Maker Award. This award is given to an individual the organization feels made a huge impact in the fight against human trafficking in the state of Virginia. This year, the award went to Chief Doug Middleton of the Henrico Police Department. Chief Middleton stated that he was honored to have received the Freedom Maker Award. “‘This recognition is a result of a total team effort and partnership between our partners in the federal agencies and the men and women of the Henrico County Police Division’, said Chief Middleton.
One of the biggest accomplishments in 2012 for RJI, was the creation of a very successful Prevention Program that was piloted at Hermitage High School. One special student, Danielle Haden, spoke about what the program meant to her – how hearing the truth about human trafficking affected her life. She then introduced the Prevention Project documentary that summarized what had occurred throughout the thirteen week program. I feel this documentary did a beautiful job of demonstrating the level of involvement that RJI desires to play just in the “Prevention” aspect of their mission statement. This documentary will give other schools interested in the program a great overview of what the project is about, and the impact it can have on the young people who participate in the program. An army of modern day abolitionists will be the end result.
The Benefit for Freedom was a wonderful success due, by and large, because of the dedication and efforts of three staff members – Heather Tobey, Cynthia Garber, and Sandy White who organized the event. Also, the many individuals who came forward and volunteered their time to serve at the event helped to make the evening flow so smoothly. I was pleased to hear those I had invited tell me what an enjoyable time they had and how grateful they were to become better educated on the issue of human trafficking. As a result of this event, we look forward to having more people in the community partner with us to rid our city – our state – of human trafficking. ~ Christina Nyczepir, RJI Social Media Administrator