Program aims to help others overcome human trafficking

MANISTEE — The first step in correcting a problem is to understand the details about it and what steps can be taken to fix it.

Human Trafficking is one of those problems in America and around the world that is impacting many children and women who are being bought, sold and forced into slave labor or sexual exploitation. It is a problem that is growing more serious with the passing of each day, but there are those out there who are fighting back against it.

The Ladies in Fellowship Fun & Faith Enrichment (L.I.F.E.) from the Divine Mercy Parish will be hosting a special program from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 14 at the St. Joseph Parish Center for the public  to bring the problem to light locally. The program will feature the work that two ladies with ties to the Manistee area, Courtney Skiera-Vaughn and Jackie Simoneau-King, are doing with two organizations fighting human trafficking.

Simoneau-King will be there in person to discuss Better Way Designs program, while Shirley Skiera will speak and present a video on behalf of her granddaughter and the Free the Girls program she is working on.

Skiera-Vaughn is the daughter of Mark and Sally Skiera who grew up in Manistee and the granddaughter of Shirley. Courtney now lives in Elizabethon, Tennesse and is the regional director for the Free the Girls program that helps victims of human trafficking.

Simoneau-King is the daughter of Manistee residents Dennis and Ruth Simoneau and is a member the organization Better Way Designs that gives survivors of human trafficking entrepreneurial opportunities. She will serve as the other speaker that evening with Skiera.

The idea for this joint program came after Skiera and Ruth Simoneau began talking about what the girls were doing.

“We have been friends for a long time and I was talking about what Courtney was doing and then Ruth told me that Jackie had gotten into it as well,” said Skiera. “I was going to put on a program in my own home and so was Ruth, so we began talking and thought maybe if we join forces it would be better.”

Skiera said Courtney has always been active in helping others.

“She did quite a few mission trips when she was in school and then went over to Uganda where she ran a safe house for girls and women who were rescued form sex trafficking,” said Skiera. “While she was there they opened a school where they were trying to educate the girls. When she and her husband got back she was picked up by an organization called Free the Girls.”

Free the Girls is an international nonprofit organization that helps the victims in the most unique way which is collecting new or slightly used bras. The bras are highly sought after in some countries and they bring in big amounts of money in the second hand clothing market. By receiving the start-up items the women are able to begin a business as entrepreneurs in their communities to obtain some economic freedom that can lead to a better life.

“We also ask that they bring $1 to cover shipping costs, so that is kind of their theme of  A Bra and a Buck,” said Skiera. “The bras that we collect that night will be shipped to Free the Girls programs in Mozambique, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

Simoneau-King’s Better Way Designs is a company bent on advancing the concept of dignity to those who were once caught in the sex trade through the means of empowering women to run their own freedom businesses. They are a Michigan based company, however they have nine world-wide supplier locations.

“Jackie has gotten involved through her church in Plymouth with the Pearls of Great Price coalition and through that she was connected with the Better Way Designs and they are selling products so that those who have been rescued from human trafficking have a means of support themselves and their families and get out of their enslavement,” said her mother, Ruth.

Simoneau added that her daughter will have a display set up so that night, women can purchase items to help these survivors of human trafficking.

“They do coffees, pottery, jewelry, purses, bags, afghans and a little bit of everything,” said Simoneau. “It is nice, quality merchandise and we have purchased some of them and used them for gifts.”

Skiera said people are surprised when they discover just how prevalent the problem is right here in Michigan.

“People don’t realize, but Michigan is the third highest state for human trafficking,” said Skiera.

Simoneau agreed and pointed out just recently there was a case in Cadillac involving human trafficking. She said sometimes it can the disappearing family unit that opens the door for a problem.

“So many family units are not as tight as they used to be, so kids have a lot of time away of adult supervision,” said Simoneau. “This program is about awareness and education is power.”

Both Skiera and Simoneau are inviting the community considering attending A Bra and a Buck and are asking people to call and RSVP  so they can get an idea on how many refreshments and seating they need. People should call the parish office at (231) 723-2619.

“We never have done anything like this so we would like to get an idea of what we need,” said Skiera. “It would be helpful, but not necessary if people RSVP. We are hoping to draw  people from outside the church as well.”

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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