By Sara Haj-Hussein
Over the course of the past month, statistics and demographics have been shared to raise awareness about human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Atlanta. Sadly, when the calendar flips to February the articles advocating change and the human interest stories are no longer prominently featured- but that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. Let’s face it, the topic is a hard one to digest, let alone discuss, but that is all the more reason why it is important to get involved in the fight.
There are ways, big and small, you can make a difference. Working with PACs and advocacy efforts, amending laws, and publishing think pieces are some ways the women of the Junior League of Atlanta (JLA) have found to combat human trafficking. Another avenue is to work with the survivors themselves. Once a month, a group of JLA members volunteer to work with the girls in the residential program at Wellspring Living.
I have volunteered and worked for a number of nonprofit organizations over the years but very few experiences are as rewarding and impactful as working with Wellspring. I spoke with some of the staffers on the basis of anonymity to understand what they like about the volunteer relationship and why volunteers are so important to their mission.
“Volunteer work is very important to the staff and the girls being served, ultimately it changes the community for the best,” observed a staffer.
“The staff enjoy seeing you meet each girl at her place of need with such acceptance and love. They recognize that your activities, themes and meal selections promotes character building and healthy lifestyles choices for the girls,” another staffer said.
Activities are designed with some of the keystone themes and curriculum in place. For example, giving the girls’ choices and allowing them to decide what they like and what they don’t like is part of the therapy. One volunteer run activity included a make your own pizza night. I recall watching some girls get overly excited about putting their pizzas together and seeing the forlorn expressions of two survivors who felt overwhelmed by the variety of toppings, carefully glancing around the room for twenty minutes to see what others had selected. It never occurred to me until that moment that something as simple as knowing what I want to eat on my pizza- and being able to have it- is privilege.
“[JLA volunteers] provide Wellspring Living with a wealth of resources to aid in our mission and programming goals. JLA volunteers are important partners in maintaining and meeting the needs of the girls with brand new clothes via the amazing JLA clothing closet. As well as delivering delicious meals or even partnering with other community organizations to provide the girls with pretty backpacks and Blessings bags during Christmas time,” stated a third staffer.
Wellspring Living provides short-term residential care for survivors of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking while offering continued education, therapy, and life skills training. To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Wellspring Living, please visit www.wellspringliving.org or visit www.jlatlanta.org to partner with the Junior League of Atlanta.