By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ, September 9, 2013 — The HEAAT Foundation is committed to the support and advocacy of victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and domestic servitude. HEAAT, which stands for Helping to Educate and Advocate Against Trafficking, is based in Atlantic County, New Jersey and serves all of southern New Jersey.
President and CEO Tina Minnis earned her Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from the College of New Jersey. After more than 35 years of state service, Ms. Minnis retired from the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services; at which time, she was the manager of the Atlantic East Local Office in Atlantic City. Ms. Minnis is an active member of the Anti-Trafficking Task Force of Atlantic County (ATTAC) and the New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force. In the following interview, Ms. Minnis shares the story and mission of HEAAT.
Holly Smith: Ms. Minnis, what inspired the creation of HEAAT?
Tina Minnis: This private non-profit organization is an extension of the Anti-Trafficking Task Force of Atlantic County (ATTAC), which has been in existence since 2005. ATTAC was spearheaded and mobilized by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which identified Atlantic City as a high-risk location for the presence of both sex and labor trafficking in the State of New Jersey.
H.S.: Can you tell us about HEAAT’s board members?
T.M.: Our Board of Trustees includes:
Vice-President/Treasurer: Brandy Smith holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) from Fordham University with a specialization in Children and Their Families and a Concentration in Child Welfare, and is licensed by the State of New Jersey. She specializes in at-risk youth and child welfare issues. Ms. Smith has been working with at-risk youth since 1998 and is an active member of ATTAC.
Founding Board Member: Joni Whelan is a Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselor and Certified Social Worker. Ms. Whelan began the first program in the State of New Jersey for Children of Substance Abusers. She has been awarded the NJ Child Abuse Prevention Award, the Skippy Award for her lifetime of work in the Addiction Field, and the Addiction Pioneer Award from Rowan University for her pioneering work in all areas of substance abuse treatment, prevention, and education, among other achievements.
Secretary: Doreen DeFeo-Gilroy holds a Master of Arts in Child Advocacy from Montclair State University. She has experience working with at-risk youth and understands their need for protection and permanency. Ms. DeFeo-Gilroy was inducted into the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society while earning her Bachelor of Arts in Special Education.
H.S.: Ms. Minnis, please tell us about HEAAT’s mission.
T.M.: Our mission is to build a community-coordinated response that will combat the perpetrators of this form of modern-day slavery; and to prevent all forms of human trafficking by raising awareness, educating, and empowering the community to take a proactive stance against these crimes. While the majority of our effort continues to be awareness, advocacy, and education; we are committed to improving and adding to the minimal resources available.
H.S.: What services are you currently offering to victims and victim advocates?
T.M.: We are providing basic and emergency needs to survivors, as well as addiction services through trained volunteers in addiction facilities. Empowerment and support groups are provided in correctional facilities where women also receive resource directories and information for when they leave the facilities. HEAAT also assisted and helped to plan and carry out a campaign to pass the “Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act of 2013” in New Jersey that included provisions to protect commercially sexually exploited children.
HEAAT serves as a resource directory and first response for law enforcement and victim specialists when needed. HEAAT collaborates with statewide goals and other anti-human trafficking agencies across New Jersey; and we work very hard to collaborate with law enforcement and maintain positive relationships with those entities. Key law enforcement officials have access to HEAAT members 24-7 and are aware how to get in touch. Local law enforcement officers have also been trained to call the child abuse hotline in New Jersey and those staff are currently being trained on how to respond.
H.S.: In what ways does HEAAT raise awareness and educate community members?
T.M.: In our capacity-building efforts, HEAAT provides extensive outreach trainings. The core training team has created an iRespect campaign that has been presented in many area schools to raise awareness and educate young people about the issue of human trafficking. HEAAT also partnered with the New Jersey Human Trafficking Taskforce on many trainings and awareness events including Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Additional key presentations included Dining for Dignity, the Camden County Violence Prevention Coalition, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Soroptimist International of Cumberland County, and HHS Region II Administration for Children and Families Training Institute on Human Trafficking Prevention. HEAAT has also conducted training workshops at the NJ Alliance for Children Youth and Families as well as the Student Assistance Counselor’s Statewide Conference. Members of HEAAT were also invited to speak at the Child Welfare Congressional Briefing: Building a Strong Response to Child Trafficking (hosted by Representative Karen Bass).
H.S.: Where do you hope to see HEAAT in the future?
T.M.: It is our objective to establish a safe house with an internal program of therapy, education, job training, and placement for the women, children, and men who are victims of the human trafficking trade. We plan to continue to raise awareness in the community in order to have seamless responses and services for victims and survivors.
H.S.: Is there anything else you’d like to add about HEAAT?
T.M.: We are having our 4th annual gala fundraiser on Friday, September 27th, 2013. To purchase tickets or to make a tax deductible donation to our basket auction, please contact us. It is our policy that 100% of proceeds raised goes directly to victim services; all HEAAT staff and board members are volunteers. To continue this work, the HEAAT Foundation needs your help! Monetary donations can be made through PayPal on our website. Gift certificates for services or other in-kind donations are always appreciated.
For questions or more information; please contact us at:
The HEAAT Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 402
Port Republic, NJ 08241