The HEAAT Foundation fights human trafficking in South Jersey

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

HEAAT

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

Phone: 609-277-3050

Email: TheHeaatFoundation@gmail.com

Website: www.theheaatfoundation.org

Interview with Elena Bondar, CEO of Two Wings

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities

Two Wings

 

LOS ANGELES, August 31, 2013  —  Two Wings is a nonprofit organization located in downtown Los Angeles that aims to serve the greater Southern California region.  Their mission is to use education, mentoring, and life coaching to empower at-risk youth and young women survivors of sex trafficking transitioning out of shelter services. In the following interview; CEO Elena Bondar shares more information about Two Wings. Elena Bondar, MBA, founded Two Wings in late 2011.

Holly Smith:  Elena, what inspired the creation of Two Wings?

Elena Bondar:  After doing thorough research, we noticed that most shelters had similar needs. There was often a lack of assistance with transitioning clients to independence. We are here to bridge the gap between life in a shelter and independent living. It is important that these women find stability and can rely on people other than the harmful personalities they have been exposed to in their past. Our mentors form valuable relationships with our clients to build them up to a point where they can feel self-sufficient.

We have two client-centered programs: educational workshops & life coaching. The workshops are available to everyone in the shelter and focus on building survivors’ knowledge, confidence, and skills related to independent living, career development, and educational advancement. Our life coaching program is designated for survivors who are further along in their recovery and are ready to consider a transition into a career or higher education.

Over the past 1.5 years, we have been able to gain strategic partnerships with shelters to provide services for their clients; and we have had three life coaching clients so far. All three are currently in the process of selecting their internships and awaiting their career mentor.

Holly Smith:  How are clients referred for the life coaching services?

Elena Bondar:  Clients are identified by shelter directors as someone who has resided there for more than 6 months and is regularly seeing a mental health professional. Once the client has gone through an assessment process with Two Wings, we partner them with a life coach who will work with the client for an entire year. During this process, the coach is there to guide and help the client identify a dream career or education they would like to pursue. When a desired career is identified, the client is then partnered with a career mentor for 3 months in that field. We partner with local businesses in order to ensure our clients will receive interviews and job placement opportunities.

Our mentors offer tremendous support for clients through their transition into employment and independent living. They strive to develop ongoing relationships with the women as they continue on their journey to a new life.

Holly Smith:  Is your organization currently working on any project(s)?

Elena Bondar:  We are excited to move into the next phase of our vision – prevention of sex trafficking victimization. We are currently in the process of partnering with local prevention agencies to reach minors at high risk for trafficking along with minors who are at risk to be re-trafficked.

Holly Smith:  Are you also involved with advocacy?

Elena Bondar:  Our organization works to raise awareness in our communities; we speak at religious centers, universities, and companies. We also recruit new team members, interns, and volunteers on an ongoing basis. As part of our training, we educate new members on the multifaceted complexities involved with recovery from sex trafficking. Not only do we prepare them to function in their role with Two Wings, but we also prepare them to raise awareness about sex trafficking within their own social systems.

Our Family Dinners are also an excellent example of how we develop a personable and inviting environment to educate those who are unaware and to discuss this sensitive issue. Social media is another outlet used to spread our message.  Aside from our website, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Holly Smith:  What has been the greatest achievement or most meaningful recognition or experience for your organization?

Elena Bondar:  Our greatest achievement so far has been watching our life coaching clients transition from being a person who had a desire for independence but felt lost and uncertain of how to attain it, to someone who is confident and ready to pursue the career of their choice!

Holly Smith:  Where do you hope to see your organization in the future?

Elena Bondar:  Our goal is to provide services nationally and eventually internationally. It would be great to not only expand our services to shelters outside of Los Angeles but further begin programs that will help in terminating the issue altogether.

Holly Smith:  What do you want the public to know about your organization?

Elena Bondar:  Our focus at Two Wings is engaging the community in every area of our clients’ journey. We encourage artisans, business professionals, and community members to use their skills and talents to inspire our clients to pursue a new future. We work to show that everyone can inspire change in a variety of ways and that, with the help of our community, we can accomplish anything.

We are always looking for volunteers for our various programs, from educational workshop facilitators to life coaches. We have a variety of opportunities for every profession and background and encourage anyone interested to see our website at: withtwowings.org/get-involved

Holly Smith:  Is there anything else you would like to add, Elena?

Elena Bondar: Our website is up and flourishing with new posts related to advocacy every week from our very own writers from Two Wings. We like to discuss topics where our readers can learn more about the issue and learn to relate to these women in a new light. We hope to hear from your readers as well.  If we fight together, sex trafficking doesn’t stand a chance.

For more information or to reach Two Wings, please visit their website at www.WithTwoWings.org or email them at Info@WithTwoWings.org.