Striking Photos Convey the Realities of Trafficking at Mingle Event

By: Carrie Swartz, Office Administrator and Race Director

Wine and hors d’oeuvres at Tuft’s Mansion Bed and Breakfast in Neillsville made for an elegant setting at Fierce Freedom of Central Wisconsin’s kickoff event on Saturday, June 30, 2018. The “Mingle” was open to the public. Guests had an opportunity to learn about human trafficking and exploitation and to connect with the new organization.

“Our goal was to bring awareness to our community about human sex trafficking and to let people know what Fierce Freedom represents. Clark County is small, and a lot of people don’t know that kind of thing is happening around us,” said Jess Reints, Fierce Freedom of Central Wisconsin Board President. The event was also an opportunity for the organization to connect with community members about what kinds of educational events or resources would be most beneficial to the community.

Large, striking black and white photographs set up around the venue contrasted the elegant décor of the mansion; a teenage girl curled up with a “for rent” sign in front of her, a close-up shot of the bare feet of a young girl in a large pair of women’s high heels standing in front of a man wearing dirty boots. Board members had taken staged photos of friends and family, and then used them as conversation pieces at the event. The photographs and other materials were placed at stations where guests could converse with board members about the topic.

“We would ask, ‘How does this picture make you feel? What do you think this quote means?’ We would chat with them more about the facts in our area,” explained Reints. During a more formal presentation later in the event, short vignettes were read aloud to tell the (fictitious) stories behind a few of the photographs. “It was an intimate setting that we tried to make really powerful to get our point across,” continued Reints.

Amy Rakestraw, Vice President of the Fierce Freedom of Central Wisconsin Board, described one of the photos, “One of the most powerful pictures was of Jess’s daughter who was seven. She had a hand over her mouth and her eyes were popping out like she was scared. It showed what it can be like. It’s not something they want to happen.”

Guests were also invited to participate in a basket raffle, purchase Fierce Freedom merchandise, or give a donation. Baskets were donated from Wood County, Clark County, and Jackson County, as well as various individuals and businesses. “We were really surprised and pleased with how many people wanted to donate. We had a good variety of high-quality baskets valued from $50 up to $400,” said Reints. The raffle and donations totaled about $600 for the organization.

Reints and Rakestraw were pleased with the response they received from the community, and with the connections the organization was able to make with various community members. Reints summed up the impact of the event, “It was a pretty upbeat event, but you could tell that everyone kind of left with a heavy heart. (The response) was that they are there to support us and will continue to support us in what we need to do for our small town community. Thank you to the community for their support- we are looking forward to being able to get out there more.”

If you would like to connect with Fierce Freedom of Central Wisconsin, you can email Jess Reints at or Amy Rakestraw at You can also send a message on facebook to “Fierce Freedom of Central Wisconsin” or call 715-937-1545.

Fierce Freedom’s Upcoming Events

Watch our website for updates and changes to the schedule of events
* Denotes free event, + denotes open to the public

Aug. 30, 6:00-8:00 PM- Fierce Freedom Board Meeting, Altoona WI
Sept. 10, 6:30-7:30 PM- Empower Youth Program, SPARK Program, Eau Claire WI
Sept. 14, 1:00 PM- Sentencing of Convicted Trafficker, Madison, WI
Sept. 24, 6:30-7:30 PM- Empower Youth Program, SPARK Program, Eau Claire WI
Sept. 25, 11:00 AM- Community Involvement Fair, CVTC, Eau Claire WI
Sept. 28, 8:00 AM-3:00 PM- Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher Conference, Menomonie WI
Oct. 1, 6:15 PM- Catholic Women’s Society Presentation, Green Mill Restaurant, Eau Claire WI
Oct. 2, 6:30-8:30 PM- Empower Youth Program, SPARK Program, Eau Claire WI
Oct. 2, 7:00-9:00 PM- Labor Trafficking Panel, Ambient Inks, Eau Claire WI *+
Oct. 3, 1:30-2:30 PM- Human Trafficking in Rural Areas, Chetek Lutheran Church, Chetek WI
Oct. 8, 6:30-7:30 PM- Empower Youth Program, SPARK Program, Eau Claire WI
Oct. 10, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM Film Showing of Nefarious, CVTC, Eau Claire WI *+
Oct. 16, 6:30-7:30 PM- Empower Youth Program, SPARK Program, Eau Claire WI
Oct. 18, 12:30-1:30 PM- Meals with Honors Series, UWEC, Eau Claire WI
Oct. 23, 6:30-7:30 PM- Empower Youth Program, SPARK Program, Eau Claire WI
Oct. 24, 10:00 AM- Planned Parenthood In-Service, Eau Claire WI

Justice Race Impact Goes Beyond Raising Funds

By: Carrie Swartz, Office Administrator and Race Director

I shared a tearful moment with Fierce Freedom’s Survivor Advocate, Tia-Janae Johnson, on the morning of the 11th annual Just Us for Justice Run/Walk. It was Tia’s first year being a part of the pasta dinner and race, and from the perspective of a survivor, Tia expressed her gratitude for the support of the community.

Tia recalled that moment in a recent conversation, “I was just really touched that people had a heart for my situation and for people in situations similar to mine. So many people do care, and it’s possible to make a difference in the community.” Nearly 200 people volunteered, and 581 people registered for the race. The race is Fierce Freedom’s largest annual fundraiser; along with the support local sponsors, $25,000 was raised.

In addition to raising funds for Fierce Freedom, the Justice Race and pasta dinner help raise awareness about human trafficking in the area and provide community members of all ages with many ways to get involved. Youth had a strong presence among volunteers this year- American Heritage Girls Troop 34 did the packet stuffing, the Jacob’s Well youth group ran two of the water stations, the Bethesda youth group ran the kids’ events, a group of young ladies sang the national anthem, and about 100 kids participated in the ½ mile kids’ race.

The kids’ race was a special moment for Tia. “The pitter patter of the feet of the kids running was significant for me, it made me tear up that all of these people were fighting the thing that happened to me. It was validating that there are people fighting against this. They see it, they recognize it, and they want to fight it. It was awesome.”

A new aspect of this year’s event was the Jessie Podolak Extraordinary Person for Justice Award, an award given to a community member in the Chippewa Valley who has made a difference in the fight against modern day slavery. Emma K. Barnett of Eau Claire is the 2018 recipient and was recognized during a special presentation at the pasta dinner. Emma completed her sixth 2 mile walk at this year’s race, at age 94. To learn more about Emma Barnett and the Jessie Podolak award or to nominate someone for the 2019 award, visit, click on the “get involved tab,” and scroll to the bottom of the page.

THANK YOU to each person who supported the 2018 Just Us for Justice Run/Walk and pasta dinner- sponsors, organizers, volunteers, runners and walkers, vendors, those who promoted the event, and donors. A special thank you to our platinum level sponsors, VES Environmental Solutions, Regis Court Dental Associates, Peace Church, and Jacob’s Well Church. Together, we are truly making a difference in the domestic fight against human trafficking, and in the lives of individuals who have been affected right here in the Chippewa Valley.

Upcoming Labor Trafficking Panel: Join the Conversation!

If you’d like to learn more about what it means to shop ethically and be an informed consumer, come join the conversation with Fierce Freedom on Tuesday, October 2nd, from 7:00pm – 9:00pm for our first ever Labor Trafficking Panel.

The evening will take place at Ambient Inks, an Eau Claire based print shop that partners with several fair-trade companies to create a wide array of ethically-sourced goods.

Executive Director at Fierce Freedom, Jenny Almquist, will join the panel to speak about what labor trafficking looks like domestically and how to be aware of a consumer’s role in the process. Other panelists include Aaron Brice, Co-Director and Co-founder of Ambient Inks, and Emile Schaut, stylist for “Tailor” and alumnus from UW-Stout’s Retail Merchandising and Management program.

After some words from our panel, the floor will open for the audience to ask our panelists questions. Attendees can also look forward to special deals on new fair-trade Fierce Freedom merchandise that will be available for purchase.

Fab Finds at Fierce Freedom Etsy Store

We are thrilled to announce the opening of our online Etsy store! We strive to offer a range of high quality, ethically-sourced products that help raise awareness of our mission to end human trafficking and exploitation. Every purchase will go towards public education about this issue and to create opportunities for victims. Visit our shop @FierceFreedomECStore for some fab finds you’ll both love and feel good about.

Meet Fierce Freedom’s Newest Staff Member, Tia-janae Johnson

By: Tia-Janae Johnson, Survivor Advocate

In November of 2017, while living in Oregon, I was invited by a woman named Kimberly Brune to go on a 6-month mission trip to Cape Town South Africa to fight against human trafficking. This opportunity stirred up many emotions inside me, leading to the realization that fighting trafficking was my calling.

After living in Oregon for two years, I moved back to my hometown in Wisconsin where I had family, some very good friends, and connections with people who were also fighting trafficking. In 2011, I had attended one of Fierce Freedom’s first events hosted by Harvestime Church. During the presentation, myself and a few others were asked by the presenter, Dave Malone, if we would be willing to share what brought us to the event. I shared parts of my own story with the group that opened many eyes in the room; trafficking does in fact occur right here in our town in ways not commonly projected. This sparked a very special relationship between me and Fierce Freedom Co-Founder and Executive Director Jenny Almquist. Jenny was able to pour into me while building a trusting, real, loving relationship with me over the next five years.

Once I moved home I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue of trafficking in my own hometown. I had a passion to advocate for the women in my community- those who are being overlooked, who don’t feel worthy, and who need a way out and someone to care. In my position as a Survivor Advocate, I hope to bring to the table an experienced, keen eye and a genuine connection with the victims that Fierce Freedom fights for.

Become a Freedom Fighter with Fierce Freedom Advocates

By: Cat Jacoby, Public Relations and Program Coordinator

Have you ever attended one of our presentations and wanted to do more? Is your heart burdened for the issue of human trafficking and exploitation but you’re unsure about how to move forward? I want to share with you a upcoming opportunity with Fierce Freedom, Fierce Freedom Advocates. This may be your next step to equip you to educate others and become a certified freedom fighter in your own hometown.

With education being at the heart of our mission, we feel that the natural progression is to build on this through the development a multi-layered online learning course. This series of trainings will first guide the user through a comprehensive look at both sex and labor trafficking. Once an assessment of their knowledge is completed and passed, they will progress to a more in-depth look at the three pieces of the puzzle- traffickers, victims, and buyers. The next learning module focuses on ways to fight trafficking through a broader approach, through legislation and at the community level through one’s personal sphere of influence. The final module finishes with some steps for personal development as an advocate, and tools for success to put in your Fierce Freedom Advocate toolbox.

While Fierce Freedom will continue to educate our local communities about modern-day slavery and exploitation in our hometowns, we also have a vision to equip others across the nation who share this passion. Our hope is that Fierce Freedom Advocates could be the spark that helps spread the message like wildfire in other communities nationwide. Be watching our website at for more information about Fierce Freedom Advocates, set to launch later this fall.

Never Say Never

By: Jenny Almquist, Co-Founder and Executive Director

Since we started our organization we have said that we do not, and likely never will, provide direct services to victims who have been sex or labor trafficked- our mission is to educate! We all know that we should never say never! The truth in that statement is that we do educate, and education will continue to be the foundation of our mission and work. However, this past year has shown us that human trafficking is complicated and educating needs to go hand in hand with serving this marginalized population.

Over the past six months, we have gone from talking to people who are concerned about the issue of human trafficking to directly assisting 10 women (some with families and young children) who have recently escaped or are in the process of being rescued from trafficking. We are working directly with local and state law enforcement toward the arrests of those who are preying on the marginalized. We had the tremendous privilege of being part of the rescue of a woman and her child this summer.

The more that we dive into this dark and complicated world, we know that education and resources are more important than ever. This includes the need to seriously address the issue of demand. Though our first reaction is often anger and disgust, it is important to understand that it is a slippery slope that often starts with one seemingly harmless click. So many men and women get caught up in the addiction of pornography, which often leads to buying sex. During Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, we will hit this issue hard with our focus being on buyers. We will share difficult stories that help shed light into the darkness of demand.

Summer often brings different opportunities for us since most of our education happens during the school year with school presentations and other scheduled programming. This summer we have focused on training agencies who provide services such as help for runaways, trauma- informed counseling, domestic abuse shelters and correctional facilities. We have also had the opportunity for our information to be translated. We are just a little bit excited about this!

The phone calls that we receive to help at-risk youth have far exceeded our ability to serve that population. We are looking at ways to serve this population in a meaningful and impactful way. This will most likely look like community wide educational opportunities where we partner with other agencies and churches in our community.

Our other big project this summer has been the launch of Fierce Freedom Advocates. We are happy to announce that this is ready to go to a focus group followed by our soft launch this fall. The timing of this seems perfect since we have people from all over the country asking to use our materials to educate their communities. Our reach this month has been from Florida to California. Who would have guessed?

I posted on facebook earlier this month about the rescue that we were able to be part of. In that post I mentioned the importance of every single one of you. Our small staff can’t do this on our own. We need volunteers with specific skills, we need people who will commit to pray for us and we need each of you to speak into your sphere of influence.

I would also ask you to give financially. To accomplish all the opportunities that I spoke of in this article, we will need funding. The beauty of being privately funded is that each of you is invested in what we are doing to make change in our communities. Just last week we had state agencies comment about how remarkable it is that Fierce Freedom has so much public support and funding – we agree! To do all that I listed above, we need you! We have people ask all the time what that looks like. It could be purchasing from our Etsy store, holding a garage sale to raise funds for us, hosting Birthday for a Cause for your next birthday, considering a corporate sponsorship- the sky is the limit. Every single penny is important to us. Please help us be the change to make a real difference in our communities.

Meet Noah Hanson, Fierce Freedom’s Spring Intern

Noah Hanson is Fierce Freedom’s spring intern, a senior at UW-Eau Claire majoring in Social Work. Noah has worked hard on variety of projects, and has been a great asset to Fierce Freedom this semester. Some of the highlights include Cookies for Cops, planning the Super Bowl Rally, a trip to Madison to learn more about the legislative process, organizing the Night of Freedom & Hope, researching and presenting on labor trafficking in the chocolate industry as part of the Reducing Your Slavery Footprint series, and completing the first of five presentations of the Empower Youth Program at the local Juvenile Detention Center. We wish Noah all the best as he is graduating in May, and know that he will continue on as a force for good in the world!

Welcome to Cat Jacoby, Fierce Freedom’s Newest Staff Member

Cat is thrilled to join such an amazing organization and work alongside an incredible team of social justice warriors. Her passion for this cause was sparked into flame during college while being part of International Justice Mission and after attending a Fierce Freedom hosted event at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She looks forward to advocating for victims of these crimes by working with both policymakers and the public to both spread awareness and bring hope to the hopeless.

Cat studied public relations during undergrad and received her BA from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2016. She is returning to the Midwest after living in Boston to work in her field and is excited to bring both her educational and professional experiences to Fierce Freedom.