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All Posts in USA

October 19, 2018 - No Comments!

Businesses That Care

By Karen Miyamoto

The 6th annual ZOE Rescue Walk is just a few weeks away.  This year's Walk theme is Unstoppable Hope...our hope is unstoppable as we strive to rescue every child and care for them with the love to Jesus!  The event will be on November 3rd, Saturday at LA Mission College/El Cariso Park Sylmar, CA.  Our goal this year is to raise $150,000 and to have 1000 people walking to join the fight against human trafficking.  It’s going to be an amazing day!

Don’t you love businesses that care?  Currently we have 5 Corporate Sponsors that have donated funds to support our Walk.  It’s a great way to show people that your business is doing something to make a difference.  It’s also a great opportunity to gain exposure while supporting a great cause.  Do you own a business or know someone that may want to help sponsor our event?

Sponsorship opportunities start at $250.00.  Below are the different sponsorship levels and benefits:

  • Bronze Level $250.00 – Mention of your business once a month on ZOE social media sites
  • Silver Level $500.00 – Mention of your business once a month on ZOE social media sites, your company logo on the ZOE Rescue Walk website
  • Gold Level $1,000.00 – Mention of your business once a month on ZOE social media sites, your company logo on the ZOE Rescue Walk website, signage at the Rescue Walk
  • Platinum Level $2,500.00+ – Mention of your business once a month on ZOE social media sites, your company logo on the ZOE Rescue Walk website, signage at the Rescue Walk and your company logo in Rescue Walk newsletter (post Walk)

It’s not too late to become a Corporate Sponsor.  We thank you in advance for your consideration!  Check out our Walk website for more info!

September 17, 2018 - No Comments!

Support for Parents of CSEC

by Marji Iacovetti

This summer, LA County launched a pilot program to support parents of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC). ZOE was privileged to support the county’s efforts.

The weekly meetings were held at a church and were led by two experienced and caring clinicians – one from the Department of Mental Health and another from an organization called Saving Innocence. Members of the church demonstrated God’s love as they opened their hearts as well as their facilities. They greeted the women warmly, served them dinner, and provided childcare.

Eight mothers attended regularly. These precious moms wept for their children, bonded with each other, and learned valuable information. It was an honor to serve them. Human trafficking not only brutalizes the victims, but also violates their families. Please pray for mothers, fathers, other caregivers, and siblings whose hearts ache over the harm experienced by their loved ones.

Community partnerships are key to healing for survivors and their families. If your church has capacity to be a resource and partner in the fight against child trafficking, please email info@gozoe.org.

September 10, 2018 - No Comments!

Efforts in Los Angeles

by Ester Yu

In July, an undercover human trafficking operation in Compton recovered 2 girls from commercial sexual exploitation and arrested 36 adults. The 2 girls were 16 and 17 years old and identified as victims of sexual exploitation. One woman who was arrested is actually from Santa Clarita and was trying to recruit an undercover officer to work in commercial sexual exploitation. Read more here: https://ktla.com/2018/07/20/36-arrested-2-girls-rescued-in-human-trafficking-bust-in-compton-lasd

Compton is part of a larger Service Planning Area (SPA) identified by Los Angeles County as having the highest number of referrals for suspected cases of CSEC. (Source: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/121549.pdf) ZOE values our partnerships with community groups, organizations, and churches all over Los Angeles County, especially in the Compton area. By expanding our network, we are able to broaden resources for the youth we serve while also supporting our community partners who serve the most vulnerable children.

For the past several months, ZOE has assisted Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services and Department of Probations in their pilot Parent Empowerment Program by supporting a Compton church partner to provide a nurturing, safe meeting space, child care, and food for the County to teach and lead a support group for parents of children who are survivors of human trafficking.

Recently, ZOE attended the Compton Human Trafficking Task Force meeting with guest Dr. Brenda Ingram who taught about the Intersection of Risk Factors for Black Boys in Sex Trafficking. Boys are at risk to become victims and/or exploiters of human trafficking. It is vital for our communities to invest and pour into the lives of our young men so that they can become allies and protectors of our young women. ZOE's USA Regional Director Dr. Jason Plunkett and Assistant USA Regional Director Ester Yu participate in a workgroup led by Los Angeles County Department of Probations to develop a CSEC prevention/intervention curriculum for young men. While interviewing former exploiters in Chicago, researchers discovered that most of the men who were interviewed were abused and trafficked as children themselves before becoming exploiters. (Source: https://law.depaul.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/schiller-ducanto-fleck-family-law-center/Documents/interview_ex_pimps.pdf)

We know that all of our current efforts, research, and collaboration are equipping ZOE's Los Angeles team to best meet the needs of our youth in Los Angeles County. Please partner with us in our efforts in LA: https://give2.gozoe.org/give/90447/#!/donation/checkout.

September 4, 2018 - No Comments!

Understanding Your Child’s Apps

by ZOE Intern, Elizabeth Leathers

How Well Do You Understand the Apps on your Child’s Phone?

The popular app, LiveMe, is proving to be a breeding ground for the distribution of child pornography and grooming for future sexual exploitation. While LiveMe is marketed for ages thirteen and up, there are thousands of users who are younger than 13 using the app. A live-streaming platform, LiveMe allows users to broadcast and document their everyday lives and watch others nearby. Users can send gifts and virtual currency to other users. This article - https://denver.cbslocal.com/2017/07/03/thornton-live-me-app highlights the unforeseen dangers associated with this app by sharing chilling stories of children being exploited in the perceived safety of their rooms without their parents’ knowledge. Using every tool in their arsenal, exploiters utilize threats of violence, peer pressure, and deception to achieve their desired results. Exploiters post and profit from these videos on websites promoting commercial child exploitation.

The article highlights the importance of parents knowing and understanding the apps on their children’s phones in order to prevent child exploitation. Children are made more vulnerable by nature due to their desire to seek approval from others. When parents are vigilant and proactive in this area, they can help to keep their children safe. This could mean downloading the app and figuring out what safeguards are necessary to protect children or it could mean doing thorough research. If you are interested in more tips about internet safety, ZOE has an excellent resource for parents linked below.

http://gozoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/A-parent-guide-to-internet-safety.pdf

ZOE is addressing this crucial issue through our MyGenMyFight program by going into middle schools, high schools, universities, and churches to discuss internet safety. This includes conversations about strangers online, what not to post, and what respecting others online entails.

August 22, 2018 - No Comments!

In Our Backyard

by Ester Yu

Last month, ZOE was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about federal and local efforts to combat human trafficking and the ongoing opioid epidemic. This meeting was hosted by Representative Steve Knight (R-CA) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and included local government officials, state legislators, law enforcement agencies, and representatives from local nonprofit organizations like ZOE.

Opioids is a significant problem in Santa Clarita Valley. In the roundtable meeting, it was discussed that there have been seven overdose deaths this year alone and that Santa Clarita is a “corridor” for drug and human trafficking. The Signal Santa Clarita Valley recently produced a series (https://vault.signalscv.com/addicted) documenting the local opioid crisis.

ZOE was able to suggest some action items related to human trafficking. We appreciate opportunities to learn from, network with, and share our knowledge and experience with those who are on the front-lines combating human trafficking through roundtable and task force meetings such as this one, the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force (LARHTTF), a Human Trafficking Congressional Advisory Committee, and others.

Human trafficking and the opioid epidemic don’t just affect one region of the country or any specific demographic,” said Rep. Knight These are national issues that hurt our neighbors in all of our communities. Chairman McCaul and the Homeland Security Committee have been extremely effective in pushing aggressive legislation that will help address many of these most pressing challenges. I want to thank him for his continued leadership and for making the trip out here to bring his expertise to these roundtable discussions.”

Today’s events were very beneficial and a huge success,” said Chairman McCaul “In order to effectively fight human trafficking and the opioid epidemic, we need to coordinate local and federal law enforcement, engage private sector non-profits, and enact many of the bold policies we’ve been advancing in the House. Rep. Knight brings invaluable experience to these discussions from his career as a police officer and I’d like to thank him for hosting me in California’s 25th District.”

Press Release: https://knight.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=2083

July 30, 2018 - No Comments!

A Dollar and Then Some!

by Karen Miyamoto

Summer always brings back fond memories…memories of spending time with friends, camp, beach and fun!  During the summer months at ZOE equals Kids Helping Kids. This program is often adopted during Vacation Bible School for churches as a missions/outreach tool.  

Kaylin Sugihara proudly showing her Kids Helping Kids Hero sticker!

This year, Cerritos Baptist Church, a local church in Cerritos, CA adopted ZOE during their July VBS as a part of their Compassion Project.  Steph Luna, their Children’s Ministry Director was so excited to share the Kids Helping Kids project with her kids! Their VBS theme this year was “Shipwrecked.”  Throughout the week, the kids learned that when you struggle, worry, do wrong, feel lonely or are powerless…Jesus Rescues! This year’s theme connected very well with ZOE’s mission of rescuing every child!

Below is a comment from Steph on how her VBS went…

Thank you for your prayers for this week! VBS was a success! The kids loved the treasure chest and filling it with money to help other kids. They were excited about helping other kids and my co-director’s son even put in his tooth fairy money!!! The parent letters were great information to give, because I think it really moved parents to give more than they normally would. On Day 3, I gave kids $1 if they could whisper the memory verse that was on our shirts (psalm 34:19)…one 5th grade boy listed it as his God Sighting for the day, being able to earn a dollar for ZOE! Our goal was to break $1,000 and we were able to raise $1,307.45!  We appreciate your support and the opportunity to partner with you! Praising the Lord for His goodness! 

Thank you Steph and the amazing team at Cerritos Baptist Church for adopting ZOE this year.  You guys are AWESOME!!

July 30, 2018 - No Comments!

Working Side by Side

By Vickie McCoy

I am so excited to share with you all a recap of two events that our team here at ZOE was able to be part of.

One of the events was “Toes in the Sand Beach Day” and the other was “Hip Hop and Hair”.

Girls in the process of recovering from human trafficking here in Los Angeles were recently invited to attend these two events. I’m grateful to tell you that ZOE was invited as well. ZOE was asked to help with the events and be part of the planning! These events help expose the girls to new activities and new experiences that can help bring hope and healing in their lives.

We were grateful to spend time with the young ladies, and with the frontline heroes who work with them every day – like Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and employees from short-term residential therapeutic programs (STRTP’s). (Look for future blogs explaining ZOE Los Angeles progress in acquiring our STRTP license.)

"Toes in the Sand Beach Day" was filled with yoga, beach volleyball, a sandcastle building competition and taking in the cool breeze, listening to the ocean waves crash, and sand between the toes. Click here to watch the recap!

"Hip Hop and Hair"–well you guessed it–a day of dance hosted by our very own church supporters, Pastors Tymme and Aury Reitz, from Life150. After dance, we did some hair care training––explaining how to wash, moisturize and brush out your hair. Click here to watch the recap!

Both of these days were over-the-top AMAZING!!!!! The girls loved it and the DCFS staff were encouraged and blessed seeing their girls open up and have fun–from being at the beach and hanging out, to learning choreography and dance, to working on some wonderful hair creations–everyone was blessed.

We were, and are, grateful to work side by side with DCFS and help support them in the work they are doing. Because of you, our ZOE donors, we were able to give Starbucks gift cards, Forever 21 gift cards, shampoo and cream rinse, special hairbrushes, and ZOE bags.

To make it possible for even MORE collaborations in the future, donate today! - DONATE

July 16, 2018 - No Comments!

A Wake-Up Call

by Marji Iacovetti

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice held a Human Trafficking Summit in Washington D.C. During the summit, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, expressed the department’s active commitment to continue to combat the violent crime of human trafficking.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?440609-101/attorney-general-sessions-remarks-human-trafficking&start=365

Mr. Sessions reported several successful law enforcement efforts including prosecutions, long sentences for traffickers, and the recovery of many victims. He praised members of Congress for their unique bipartisan support and interest in this important issue.

He also conveyed serious concern that human trafficking remains distressingly prevalent, noting that, “from 2010 to 2015, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a nine-fold increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking,” and stated, “These numbers should be a wake-up call for all of us.”

Will you join us in praying for law enforcement officials who fight this crime? Please pray for their safety, for wisdom, and for a growing focus on stopping human trafficking throughout our nation.

July 9, 2018 - 3 comments

The Last Two Miles

The Last Two Miles
A journey through the desert

by Betsy Meenk

Facing challenges in our lives are often the best times to learn valuable lessons for living life to its fullest.  It was during a recent 4-day cycling challenge that I learned lessons in selflessness that I hope will help equip me to overcome tests and trials in a God-honoring manner in the future.  

The organization I work for, ZOE International, conducted a 64-day coast to coast cycling challenge called Road of Justice in order to bring awareness to the issue of child trafficking.  The organizers of this event, Brad and Lori Ortenzi, took on this challenge with focus and determination that was inspirational. They road every inch of the 3,700 miles through all kinds of terrain, varying weather conditions, sore muscles and a host of other challenges.  Keeping them going when their bodies and minds were done was the thought of all the pain and suffering a child caught in the trap of human trafficking must endure. Bringing attention to this atrocity in order to end it was their singular focus.

I had the privilege of spending a week on the road with Brad and Lori and other cyclists who joined them along the way.   3 of those days were spent on my bike making our way from the Grand Canyon to Needles, California, approximately 245 miles (my 4th day was the last day of the ride; Fontana to Santa Monica).  It was the last 2 miles of that 3rd day near Needles, California that opened my eyes to a valuable principle I thought I knew but I discovered I still needed to grasp.  What follows are the lessons I learned from those last 2 miles.

It was the last day of a 3-day ride before we got a rest day.  The first two days had their challenges but this 3rd day pushed me both physically and mentally.   At about 50 miles in, we were faced with a 4-mile climb that had as much as a 7% grade at times.  The other riders in the group that day made this climb look easy as they all passed me struggling up this hill.  I am fairly new to cycling and I am not a good climber so this really pushed my limits. As I fought my way up the hill, my sister stayed with me cheering me on.   At one point Brad came back to ride with me pulling me up the hill with his words of encouragement. Either one of these riders could have made it up the hill much faster to get off their bikes for a much deserved rest but instead chose to stay with me!  At the top of the hill, I was met by a line of the other riders cheering me on.

I know I could not have made it up that hill without the motivation of the other riders.   It became very apparent to me that day that I was a member of a team and that the strength of the team was in each individual rider looking out for the others.  It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s law of the jungle quoted in the jungle book: “the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack”.  I definitely got my strength from the pack on that hill. The reality of drawing strength from team members would set me up to learn a valuable lesson in selflessness.  That lesson would come at the last 2 miles of this 3rd day.  

After climbing that hill, we had the most amazing and exhilarating downhill that seemed to magically erase the pain of that 4-mile climb.  The rest of the ride that day should have been fairly easy but at about 10 miles out something began to happen in my body. Although we were on a flat road, I felt like I was climbing again.  It was hot (upper 90’s) and every pedal stroke became a mental exercise to keep going. Just before the California/Arizona border the group stopped for something. I was feeling a bit nauseous so I got off my bike to sit down in the shade for a minute to cool off while the group did whatever they needed to do.   Brad and my sister were close by and asked if I was okay. I told them that I was just a bit nauseous but that I would be okay. As I stood up to get back on my bike I felt a little light headed so I sat back down to try and clear my head. Seeing my condition, my sister dumped cold water on my head and Brad encouraged me to call it a day and take a ride on the van the final 2 miles.  My immediate thought was, “No way, I am not giving up with only 2 miles to go. I can push through.” My body and others on the team convinced me otherwise, sighting facts about the dangers of heat exhaustion and so in the van I went. I felt totally defeated as I sat crying in the van and trying to cool off while my teammates loaded up my bike. 2 stinking miles to go and here I am sitting in the van!  I was feeling quite sorry for myself! Before getting back on his bike to complete the day’s ride, Brad poked his head in the van to check on me. The two simple words he uttered at that moment would play over and over again in my head the next several days. He simply looked at me and said, “No pouting!”

No pouting?  But pouting is just what I wanted to do.  I failed. I didn’t finish. I was weak. What did the other riders think of me?  I was pouting because I was thinking of myself; not about the group of riders I was with; not about the children we were riding for; just me!  Why no pouting? Because this was not about me, it was a team effort that we were ALL doing for children who were suffering through the horrors of human trafficking.   It really didn’t matter if I rode my bike another two miles or not. This wasn’t about my personal goals or my achievements. It was about children who needed help! I had lost my focus.

I would like to say that Brad’s words snapped me out of my selfish stupor at that moment but that is not the case.  I continued to pout and regret my decision to get in the van and not finish those last two miles on my bike that day.  I thought ending my ride two miles short of the finish line would haunt me the rest of my life. But after a rest day it was my turn to drive the support vehicle which would help to form the deep and hopefully long lasting lesson of “no pouting”.  As the driver, it was my responsibility to be available to the riders to provide water, snacks, find rest stops or anything else they needed. I stayed behind the riders most of the time over the long and monotonous roads of the Mojave Desert and watched them work together to overcome some pretty daunting riding conditions.  There were six riders but after following and watching them work together for 3 days, I no longer saw six riders; I saw one unit. Because I was by myself in the van I had plenty of time to think and contemplate the selfless team effort that was unfolding before my eyes in comparison to my pouting episode in the van a couple of days earlier.  Oh, I had so much to learn from these determined individuals that I had come to admire so much.

Even now as I play those days over and over again in my mind, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.”  Then to the Philippians he wrote: “Work together with one mind and one purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others too.”

I will never know if I could have done those last two miles.  But instead of that thought haunting me, it is teaching me a valuable life lesson:  This life is a journey we are on together. There are going to be hills to climb and challenging circumstances to face.  It is going to take all of us working together, encouraging each other to make it to the finish line. Along this road we may find ourselves out front leading.  Other times we may have to “sit on the van” for the benefit of the group. Either way, we travel together, we finish together, we win together.

To my fellow cyclists:  thank you for helping me climb mountains!  Thank you for teaching me to face challenges and conquer them selflessly.  Most of all, thank you for the sacrifices you made to help rescue more children and get them to the finish line!   

June 25, 2018 - No Comments!

From the Road

After 64 days and 3700 miles on the road, 20 Road of Justice cyclists crossed the finish line in Santa Monica Beach on JUNE 23rd, Saturday.  This cycling challenge was started by two of our ZOE missionaries, Brad and Lori Ortenzi. The ride officially kicked off on April 21st in Virginia.  Along the route, other cyclists have joined them in various states.

Below is a brief comment from one of cyclists, Patrice O’Neil.  

Hi everyone:

As most of you know, I’ve recently participated in the The Road of Justice fundraising ride across America.  Don’t worry, I did not do the entire ride - just 3 days. The ride ends tomorrow in Santa Monica, CA. Riders Brad and Lori Ortenzi and Tina Hipp get to dip their front tires in the ocean, completing a journey that started for them in VA on April 21st.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment. I’m so honored to have taken part for just a few days. My sister, Betsy, daughter Tracey, and friend Frances partnered up with an exceptionally dedicated and really, really hilarious group of people for 3 days in AZ. We experienced weather ranging from 47 degrees in the morning to 110 degrees in the afternoon; rain; flat tires - lots of them on Hwy 40, elk, coyotes, 23 mph headwinds (wicked hard), miles of climb, exhilarating steep descents, wild burros looking for snacks, and even had the strangest encounter initiated by carrot cake - ever. We rode between 85-95 miles each day.  

All along the way where it was possible to ride in pairs, we had incredible conversations with Brad and Lori especially. They both have been living and working in Thailand for several years.  I thought I understood ZOE International before but I truly had no idea of the depth and complexity of their work. In a nutshell, they work to prevent, rescue and restore kids and families affected by human trafficking. It’s a tricky, delicate, and very complicated work.  They are passionate about not exploiting children in any way, so you will never see a picture of one of their rescued children, or even hear a specific story. They protect the dignity and privacy of every child - always. It would surely make fundraising easier if they relented on this one point, but to their great credit, they’ll do things like ride across the entire U.S. instead.  They are unerringly respectful of the Thai culture and endeavor to work themselves out of a job as quickly as possible. Every bit of work revolves around carefully cultivated relationships and lots and lots of love. This same respect and care is being applied to their burgeoning efforts outside the L.A. area where they are building a facility to house, care for, and love girls rescued from trafficking.  

I can say with utter confidence that I have never been so impressed by an organization or group of people.  I know there is a lot of attention rightly being given to the children snatched from their parents at the border and I hope that you, as have I, are supporting efforts to reunite families.  I know many of you have already donated to the ZOE fundraiser, and for that, I am truly grateful. I am going to ask you to consider one more donation to ZOE as this particular fundraiser comes to a close.  The overall goal for this effort is $350,000. We’re shy of $250K. Any small amount will be a measure of encouragement and appreciation for the dedication and love expended by these fine people.

On the afternoon of day two, I rode with my sister for several hours.  Most of the group had pulled far ahead of us. We struggled mightily, as had those faster riders in the front, against 23 mph headwinds.  We were frequently pushed off the road by the wind. It was by far the hardest ride I’ve ever done. Brad and Lori circled back and rode with us just to keep us going.  They changed Betsy’s flat tire (her 4th!). We rode and rode and rode, until they encouraged her to take the lead. I didn’t realize we were at our destination and started to trundle past the cheering group on the other side of the road.  Betsy rolled in to high fives and pats on the back. The wind had sucked my brains out of my head so it took me a minute to realize this was our group. (Who else in their right mind would be out there anyway?)

Thank you!
Patrice

To donate to Road of Justice: https://give2.gozoe.org/checkout/donation?eid=130020