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.