Girl Scouts made a difference in my life as a child and even more with my life as a Girl Scout leader and a mom. We touched so many lives with ripples that we may not always see...but last week I got to see a ripple...it was so big, when I went home that night I cried. It isn't your usual Girl Scout story...but it is one of great courage and strength to stand up for what is right even if it is scary.
In the summer of 2008, while sitting at my computer, a picture of a girl sitting on a bed with barbed wire around it, showed up on my screen in of all things, a Girl Scout email. It was inviting teen Girl Scouts to attend an ice cream social to learn about a twinning project with Girl Scouts in Honduras to fight human sex trafficking.
I had never heard of human trafficking and the picture gave me a quick stomach ache…but I called my 8th grade going on 9th grade daughter Alexis into the room and asked her to look at the email to see what she would think. She exclaimed with enthusiasm, “Let’s do it! I am tired of just doing things like recycling to change the world. This is big!”
So from there we gathered some of our troop that was interested in attending the ice cream social and we went. We met survivors of human sex trafficking of minors who grew up in Arizona. We heard some of their stories and learned that in 2008 we were the 5th largest state that had human sex trafficking of minors and that Honduras was also heavily afflicted with it.
My troop members who came that day signed up with a couple of other Girl Scouts and that started our journey as a special group of Girl Scouts who spread awareness about human sex trafficking of minors. The girls came up with the name GS GEMS—Girl Scout Girls Empowering and Mentoring with Support.
The GS GEMS decided to make black and white jewelry to raise awareness for human trafficking. They also did presentations to teen groups in schools, churches, foster care children, women's groups, and even keynoted at a professional conference for adults put on by Girl Scouts—A Girl’s World is Different that was focused that year on fighting sex trafficking of minors.
My daughter earned her Gold Award from doing this work and for creating a website: www.teensontrafficking.org Alexis also became a Girl Scout National Young Woman of Distinction and earned many college scholarships.
The GS GEMS are all grown up now and have started their adult lives. I stayed a leader for 4 additional years with new high school girls to keep GS GEMS going. Those girls too are now all in college and this last year, I hung up my troop leader responsibilities.
I enjoy seeing old “Facebook Memories” of events the GS GEMS spoke at and it makes me smile remembering how proud I was of these girls standing up for a cause that many would rather turn a blind eye. Every now and again I see a woman in a crowd wearing a GS GEMS bracelet or earrings. We did raise awareness but did we make a difference?
Last week, I got the answer.
I was invited to attend an informational event at Pollack Tempe Cinemas about a new nonprofit, Cece’s Hope. My friend, Councilmember Rene Lopez, is the chair of the board of directors for this new shelter with counseling services, mentoring, and more that they are hoping to open up somewhere in the East Valley to help young women from the ages of 17 to 25 who have been hurt by sex trafficking.
Years ago, the GS GEMS helped with a Black and White Ball to raise funds and awareness for StreetlightUSA which is a shelter with services that help children ages 11 to 17 who are survivors of sex trafficking.
I remember we invited Councilmember Lopez to the Black and White Ball and he came with his family. Then the following year, Councilmember Lopez joined our planning committee for Gala Night for StreetlightUSA. Now he is committed to be the chairperson of the board of directors for the next steps to help a young woman who is too old for StreetlightUSA but too young for other programs who help adult survivors of sex trafficking.
It was exciting to see Councilmember Lopez step into this role knowing we were the first ones to open his eyes and his heart to this issue.
That was one ripple, I got to see.
Then the next ripple hit me like a tidal wave…
We watched a movie about a good family who had a daughter who got caught into sex trafficking. It was heart wrenching. She was sold again and again on Backpage.com. We were lucky, that this movie had a happy ending and she was reunited with her family and got counseling help.
When the movie ended, Councilmember Lopez told us the rest of the story…
Backpage.com got shut down and sued because it was proven that they knew about the ads being about sex trafficking of children and they didn’t do anything to stop it. The family in the movie received a settlement as well as other families whose children were rescued.
This ripple hit me like a tidal wave and brought tears to my eyes because towards the end of the GS GEMS journey, Alexis and I joined other abolitionists and picketed in front of BackPage.com’s corporate office. I am a positive person and have never picketed except against sex trafficking of children.
At the time, it felt hopeless but we couldn’t let it go without standing up to say it was wrong.
The GS GEMS were one of many voices who said enough is enough. Together we made a difference. It isn’t over but a dent has been made.
Today is a special stand up for Girl Scouts Day. I am so thankful for Girl Scouts because they build girls of courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place!
Thank you Girl Scouts! Enjoy the ripples you can see and hold in your heart all the ripples made that you haven’t seen yet! Happy Girl Scouts Day!