Educating At-Risk Youth in Juvenile Detention

By: Jenny Almquist

I’m pretty sure it was one of the most humbling days of my life. Last week I went with one of our interns to speak with a group of youth at the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center (JDC).  I supposed I hadn’t prepared myself; how could I have, really? I had never been in a facility like that in my life and I didn’t know what to expect.

We walked into the building and rode the elevator to the third floor. We waited for several minutes to be accompanied into the JDC part of the building. As we waited, they came out one by one – out from their cells. That’s right, cells. These kids have done some pretty bad stuff. One young man had already been there for four months.

We had less than an hour with the youth, five of them. I am not sure how many youth were in the building that day, but five had earned the privilege to come out and listen to us. They seemed happy to be there – maybe it was the two bags of candy in my hand.

I was humbled at the opportunity to speak with a truly vulnerable part of our society. Statistics show us that these young people are at risk to either become victims of human trafficking or to victimize and become traffickers.

Our newest employee, Carrie Swartz, will be working with these kids on a regular basis. Her background in Social Work and her experience with teaching at risk youth will benefit her as she writes curriculum to speak to the specific needs of these youth.

Thank you to the staff of the Northwest Regional JDC for the work that you do, for working with and investing in the lives of these kids. And thank you for giving us the opportunity to have a positive influence on them as well.

Fierce Freedom’s Mission is to educate, that is what we do. Did you know that we speak to groups such as:

Area police departments

Medical staff

Staff at local jails

Teachers at private and public schools (and students at those schools)

Civic organizations such as Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs

Church staff and youth groups

And more…

We also have specialized presentations such as:

Human Trafficking 101

Middle School and High School Prevention and Awareness

How to talk to your kids about tough subjects (Pornography, human trafficking, sexting, etc.)

Connections between pornography and human trafficking

Faith Community’s role in fighting human trafficking

How to talk to community leaders

Movie screenings with guided discussions

Welcome to Bryan Symes, our new Board Member

Bryan is a management-side employment and labor-relations attorney at Weld Riley, S.C. in Eau Claire.   Bryan’s law practice emphasizes, among other things, collective bargaining; the defense of harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims; the defense of wage and hour complaints; non-compete litigation, advice concerning the proper administration of employee leave laws; and crafting workplace policies.   Bryan is also a MLBPA Certified baseball agent, and regularly advises professional baseball players at the major and minor league levels.

Bryan first encountered Fierce Freedom at his local church, where he learned about the pervasiveness of human trafficking both nationally and regionally.   After struggling to accept the heartbreaking and sobering reality that is human trafficking, Bryan immediately felt compelled to contribute to Fierce Freedom’s laudable mission of mobilizing the community to recognize and thwart human trafficking efforts in the Chippewa Valley and beyond.   Bryan is excited about empowering members of the local community to eradicate human enslavement through education and encouragement, and believes that each of us shares in the collective responsibility to take action to protect those vulnerable to trafficking efforts.

Welcome to Carrie Swartz, our new Office Administrator

Carrie is the Office Administrator at Fierce Freedom. Her eyes were first opened to modern-day slavery in 2007, when she became involved with organizing the Just Us for Justice Run/Walk. Carrie has long been passionate about helping disadvantaged and oppressed people, which lead to her education and past work experience in the social work field. She has also volunteered in an administrative role for various community organizations. Her work at Fierce Freedom engages her heart and provides an opportunity to do behind-the-scenes work that makes a difference in fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Just Us for Justice: 10 Years and Running

By: Carrie Swartz

The Just Us for Justice Run/Walk celebrated a big birthday this year, holding its 10th annual event on Wednesday July 19th at Carson Park in Eau Claire. The founder and director of the race, Jessie Podolak, officially “retired” as director this year, handing the reigns over to Fierce Freedom. The Justice Run will now be organized by Fierce Freedom staff and volunteers, and will be an annual fundraising event for Fierce Freedom. Over $22,000 was raised for Fierce Freedom at this year’s event! A big THANK YOU to our generous sponsors who covered all race expenses, so that all donations made by participants went directly to Fierce Freedom.

It was an eventful year! We added a new aspect to the event, a pasta dinner, on the Sunday before the race. Attendees enjoyed spaghetti, salad, and pudding while listening to a presentation celebrating the 10th year. On race day, rain, lightning and wind swept the park prior to the race, delaying races by a half hour. Thankfully, the weather cleared just in time and it was a wonderful event! We had 578 runners registered, and over 155 people volunteered. A large tree also fell on the 2 mile race route during the storm, shortening the race to 1.7 miles! Multiple food and merchandise vendors, music, a massage tent, photo booth, and the spirit of supporting an important cause made for a fun atmosphere, as has been the flavor of the Justice Race for the past 10 years. The rain delays and some complications with our new registration and chip timing system posed some challenges (a long packet pickup line and delayed race results), but we have had very positive feedback about the event overall. Every year there is something to learn from and improve for next year!

The official slogan for the Justice Race is “Just Us: Ordinary People for Justice.” The race was founded not only to raise money to fight human trafficking and modern day slavery, but also to give all members of our community a tangible way to fight the problem. The spirit of the race continues under Fierce Freedom’s leadership, inviting everyone in our community and beyond to run, walk, volunteer, sponsor, give a donation, or share their gifts and talents in some way. Together, we are making a difference!

Looking back and looking ahead

The phone rang in our office and a woman on the other end of the line said “please talk to my daughter— she has been sex trafficked.” Our new friend agreed to come to the office and she told us her horrific story. She spoke of when she was a young girl sold over and over again to older men in our community to do un-speakable acts.

After speaking with our friend, I am relieved to say that we were able to connect her with local authorities. It was especially important because our friend is dying from cancer and she only wanted to be heard so that she could be sure that the details of her story were told to local officials now in her last days. I wish that each of you who have support our cause could have been in our office that day. Just to hear her say that she is now at peace because she knows that people finally know that truth was so empowering.

During the past year we have heard the highest highs and the lowest lows. Along with stories like the one above, we have seen people stepping up to see exploitation of youth and the sale of something that should never be sold stopped.

Thinking back on the past year I can’t help but think of all of the courage that we saw unfold in front of us. I felt with all certainty that we chose the right name for our organization – Fierce Freedom. Though I rarely feel “fierce” myself, I believe that I have come to an understanding of fierce this year.

Fierce comes from the Latin ferus ‘wild animal.’ It means strong, proud, dangerous and ready to roar. Fierce can also be used to mean intense.

Yes! That is fierce. However let me also tell you of what I have seen to be fierce. This past year I have seen weak and broken women stand up and say NO to further exploitation. I have seen shy and timid people stand in front of groups of people to talk about this crime and what it is doing to our youth. I have seen people quietly but fiercely give of their finances to see that our law makers understand what trafficking looks in WI – laws are changed in our state, enforced in our counties and our vulnerable neighbors cared for.

The coming year holds huge promise for fierce change around us. Our focus will be to train hotel staff how to recognize human trafficking and how to protect those who may be in danger. This program is called Be Aware and we are proud to partner with Visit Eau Claire and the Eau Claire Police Department for this endeavor.

Along with Be Aware we have presentations scheduled a year out with many exciting opportunities to prevent human sex and labor trafficking in the Chippewa Valley, throughout Wisconsin and in our neighboring states. It is because of these timely opportunities that I want to ask you to consider giving generously as we complete this calendar year. Your tax-deductible gift will help us bring the message of freedom and hope to thousands of youth and at-risk students in our area.

Please make plans to join us for our Night of Freedom and Hope on Thursday, February 23rd at the Lismore Hotel in Eau Claire, WI. This will be a great opportunity to hear how local lives have been impacted and changed through the efforts of freedom fighters on our team. Consider purchasing your tickets early or sponsoring a table—or coming early to bid on amazing silent auction items (details coming soon). We are excited to corporately celebrate the progress that has been made to eradicate local human trafficking.
From everyone here at Fierce Freedom, Merry Christmas and a very happy, safe and fierce New Year!

Jenny Almquist,
Fierce Freedom, Executive Director

Movie Night

Bring your popcorn and get ready to help us spread awareness by attending some of our upcoming movie screenings. We are screening two movies over the next few months and we would love for you to join us. Both movies are free and open to the public. Please see upcoming events for exact times and places.

Chosen: By Shared Hope International. This movie is meant for middle school and high school students and those that interact with that age group.

Learn the shocking true story of two teen girls tricked by traffickers. Brianna, 18, was a star student, cheerleader and waitress eager to break out of her small town to attend college in the big city. Lacy, 13, enjoyed church and school but struggled to help care for her siblings while her stepfather was deployed and mother worked to support the family. Brianna and Lacy share how traffickers used manipulation to lure them into the world of sex trafficking.

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, is a hard-hitting documentary that exposes the disturbing trends in modern sex slavery. From the very first scene, Nefarious ushers you into the nightmare of sex slavery that hundreds of thousands experience daily. You’ll see where slaves are sold (often in developed, affluent countries), where they work and are confined. You’ll hear first-hand interviews with real victims and traffickers, along with expert analysis from international humanitarian leaders. From initial recruitment to victim liberation––and everything between–– the previously veiled underworld of sex slavery is uncovered in the groundbreaking, tell-all Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.


Upcoming Events

Sept 29 – Menomonie Public Library – Chosen 6.30

Oct 3 – Eau Claire Public Library – Chosen 7PM

Oct 9 – Parkview Baptist Church, Black River Falls WI – 8:15AM and 10:30AM

Oct 20 – Corporate Partnership and Just us for Justice Run Sponsorship meeting

Oct 23 – Alliance Church of Menomonie – Nefarious Documentary 6PM

Nov 2 – St. Matthew’s Church, Eau Claire – Tough Conversations (how to talk to students about porn and sex trafficking) 6:30PM

Nov 4 – Private Event 3-5PM

Nov 6 – Chippewa Valley Bible Church – Nefarious Documentary 7PM

Nov 12 – Fair Trade craft event at Down To Earth – T-shirts and gifts for sale for Fierce Freedom funding

Nov 13 – Colfax Bethany Lutheran Church Women’s Group 6PM

Dec 1 – Private Event 11AM

Dec 3 – FF Staff and Volunteer Christmas Party

Dec 7 – State Taskforce Meeting

Jennifer McBride, Fierce Freedom President

Owner of VES Environmental Solutions, LLC., Acer Trading Group, LLC. (CEO), VES Asia, LLC. and VES Environmental Solutions Europe Limited (2008-Present)

My interest and involvement in Fierce Freedom comes from my many years of traveling the world and seeing the impact of Human Trafficking. From a business perspective, I strive to help other businesses understand the impact of Human Trafficking not only in our community but around the world. I have a passionate belief that education is the key to understanding the truth about Human Trafficking. When we educate others on the truth of what Human Trafficking is, what it looks like and look for those who are enslaved, only then will it motivate someone to make a difference.

Note from the Director

By Jenny Almquist

As a growing organization it is critical that members of the Board of Directors are dedicated to our mission. I alone could never lead this organization—nor would I want to! I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for this group that brings their expertise and leadership to see “modern-day slavery exposed in our home-towns.”

In my organizational position, I know that it is critical to have a healthy and well-rounded board. It will be my pleasure to introduce each of them over the next few months.

This month, I would like to introduce you to our Board President; Jennifer McBride.

Jennifer took over as President last spring and I am grateful for her leadership and passion to fight human trafficking right here in the upper-Midwest.


Apps that fight human trafficking

By Jodi Emerson

We live in a digital age. We’ve seen how websites have made human trafficking available to the masses. But did you also know that there are many websites and apps out there to help fight trafficking? Fierce Freedom has spent some time looking at a few and would like to offer our thoughts on them.

TraffickCam by Exchange Initiative

This app allows the user to take pictures of a hotel room and record the city and room number of the hotel. This is important because much of the sex trafficking that happens in the U.S. happens in hotel rooms and many of the ads posted contain pictures of people in hotel rooms. The app developers are in the process of assembling a database of hotel rooms so that when law enforcement finds a picture in a hotel room, they can compare it to the database and narrow down the search for the victim.

Pros: Easy to use. Makes the user feel like they are doing something to fight trafficking. There are warning signs listed in the app so it educates people while they are helping fight trafficking.

Cons: Room database is not available yet. Rooms get remodeled so pictures can be outdated.

Sweat and Toil: Child Labor and Forced Labor by US Department of Labor

This app deals with overseas labor trafficking that is so hard to fight. The app allows the user to look up goods by area or country to determine if child labor or forced labor is used in the production of the item. This app is wonderful because the majority of human trafficking that happens worldwide is labor trafficking and this app helps people make smart decisions with their consumer dollars.

Pros: Easy to use. You can look up items by type or by country. Has numerous categories which reinforces what a big problem labor trafficking is throughout the world.

Cons: Organizations of all sorts manufacture projects and we know that there can be good and bad businesses in the same area. This app does not include the United States, so it gives the appearance that labor trafficking does not happen in this country.

The STOP APP-End human trafficking by 5Si

This app allows you to record instances when you suspect human trafficking is happening. We do not -recommend this app be used. If you see something, contact local police and then call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

Pros: Gives good information about what to look for and warns the user to report to local law enforcement first and them second.

Cons: Puts the user in dangerous situations of playing cop. Traffickers are dangerous individuals and often will react violently if they are afraid they are being recorded.

BAN Human Trafficking! by Inellex and Lifeboat ACT game by Jill  Cohen                                                        

These gaming apps allow the user to act out scenarios of how traffickers take advantage of people and groom them for a life of trafficking. Both of these apps put you in the shoes of someone in either an everyday situation or a desperate situation so you can understand how easily someone can be tricked into doing something they would have never imagined doing.

Pros: Great way to start a conversation with teenagers about human trafficking. Helps you understand what a victim goes through. Learn lessons while playing a game.

Con: The STOP APP was developed in Europe, so it would be easy for users to assume trafficking doesn’t happen in America. Remember that trafficking can happen anywhere and apply the scenarios to your neighborhood.

Apps are great tools as we work to educate everyone that modern day slavery is happening in our hometowns. But we must use them carefully. Never put yourself in danger. If you see something happening, contact local police. Please do your part to educate yourself and those around you to fight the fastest growing crime on the planet.