During its one-hundred years of existence, the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club, one of the largest in our state, has been host to tycoons of business, governors, senators, and even presidents. The club has been on the cutting edge of many controversial topics, and since its beginning has been a mover and shaker in our community. No program shook the club to its core as much as the presentation we heard on human trafficking.
Human Trafficking is a glossy term for modern-day slavery. An individual who is not free to make basic decisions for themselves, such as one who: is forced to stay in a job or a situation, suffers unusual restrictions at their work or in their living conditions, is forced to work to pay off a debt that never seems to end, is under the age of 18 and involved in commercial sex acts, high security measures exist in their work and/or living conditions, or is forced to live in the same place they work, may be a victim of trafficking.
Rotarians learn the facts and how to communicate the dangers of human trafficking. Melisa Glenn of the Garland County Task Force on Human Trafficking speaks to Rotarians during a training session
Melisa Glenn, Chair of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Garland County (Arkansas) shared these startling statistics. There are over twenty-seven million people in slavery worldwide today. Every continent reports it, and almost every country and every state in the United States reports it. Fifteen thousand foreign internationals are brought into the U.S. each year for the purpose of forced labor or sex. There are an estimated two-hundred thousand U.S. minor citizens who become trapped every single year. Sex trafficking makes over thirty-two billion dollars worldwide each year. It is the fastest growing criminal enterprise and is estimated by the United Nations to become the number one criminal enterprise, surpassing drugs and arms trafficking. Why is it such big business? Because it makes big money!
Hot Springs is a small town of approximately 35,000 people. During 2015 three cases of trafficking, involving minors under the age of 18, were discovered in our community. This is a situation that we as concerned citizens and as a club could not sit idly by and tolerate. There are already laws on the books against trafficking, and we have a good police department, so what else could we do?
Our TRF Grants Committee, chaired by Judy Heikes Kelly, met to discuss the possibilities. As ideas were tossed around the table, we decided our greatest impact would be to make our community aware of the seriousness of the problem. Chairperson Judy and committee members Nancy Baxter and Pat Penor met with Melisa Glenn to plan an awareness campaign. Our goal was to plan a three-fold campaign, (1) provide awareness to our community (2) involve Rotarians and (3) provide the task force with materials to use after the campaign was finished. We mapped out the project, applied for a $1,500 grant from District 6170, and then we waited. After several weeks, we received notice that the project had been 100% funded by the district. We were ready to roll!
The grant from District 6170 funded the materials for this awareness booth. At the close of the campaign, the materials were donated to the Garland County Task Force on Human Trafficking
Our first action was to provide training to educate Rotarians. Melisa conducted two sessions, giving our club members the tools they would need to operate the information booths. We ordered necessary equipment and supplies for the booth, including a folding table, table throw and runner, retractable display stand, shade canopy, ice chest, totes, printing of brochures and flyers for local information, exhibit space at the city business expo, name badge holders and lanyards, informative DVD, rolling file cart, bottled water, candy, and miscellaneous items. Local organizations donated folding chairs, exhibit space at the Farmers Market and the Hot Springs Mall, an article in the Senior Directory, a local magazine; an interview on KLAZ, a popular local radio station with a multi-county audience; and coverage in the Hot Springs Sentinel Record Newspaper. The Administration for Children and Families U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made a large quantity of free informative materials available to us.
At the Hot Springs Business Expo, Past Presidents Susan Aldridge (PDG) and Richard Payton visit with business owners, community leaders, and the general public about the dangers of human trafficking in our community
The campaign ran from October 2015—January 2016. Thirty nine Rotarians and members of the task force contributed a total of 134 hours in the manning of six different awareness booths which reached an untold number of people.
Our debut! Rotarians man the booth at the Hot Springs Farmers Market. It was a cold and rainy day, but spirits were bright
The club forged a viable partnership with the Garland County Task Force on Human Trafficking and left them with equipment they sorely needed to continue their work.
By Nancy Baxter, Hot Springs National Park Rotary; Hot Springs, Arkansas
The opinions expressed in this Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff