New non-profit Blanket Fort Hope seeks to help child trafficking victims
Published 1:28 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016
By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer
COLUMBIANA – Leaders of a new non-profit organization aimed at helping child victims of human trafficking spoke to the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce at a membership luncheon April 7 about their mission and services.
Jeff McDowell, board chairman, and Lauren Hartin, president, CEO and co-founder of Alabama-based Blanket Fort Hope, discussed their reasons for forming the organization and the impact they hope to have in the community.
“Human trafficking is a devastating evil to our kids,” Hartin said. “I get briefed on these cases all the time, and it’s so disheartening. We believe there is hope for our kids, hope for our communities.”
Incorporated on Jan. 21, 2015, Blanket Fort Hope’s mission is to help children that are victims of human trafficking through housing and other services, and to provide educational materials and curriculum for children and professionals aimed at preventing children from becoming trafficking victims.
McDowell said trafficking happens in large cities in the Southeast like Birmingham, Huntsville and Nashville, but also extends into suburban areas including Shelby County.
“It happens here,” he said. “It happens every day. Blanket Fort Hope’s mission is to primarily focus on the sex trafficking side.”
Hartin said the organization is working with Leadership Shelby County to create a short prevention education video to be included in the Blanket Fort Hope curriculum for schools, churches and other youth-related groups.
“We want (children) to know there are people out there that can hurt them, but we also want them to know how to fight it,” McDowell said. “We are trying to expose the enemy’s playbook. If you expose the playbook, you can defend against it.”
Hartin said a common misconception regarding child trafficking is that it only affects children from unstable home backgrounds.
“It’s not just an issue affecting foster children or runaways,” Hartin said. “It affects stable kids. It’s a very real situation.”
Traffickers often prey on children through social media, she added, and look for more vulnerable children to victimize.
“These kids are somebody’s daughters and somebody’s sons. If we don’t do something, they could be ours,” McDowell said. “Trafficking victims have experienced things nobody can understand. The fact is they’re children. They still have a shot, they still have hope.”
McDowell and Hartin noted support Blanket Fort Hope has received in Shelby County and the time and energy the Department of Human Resources and local law enforcement agencies invest in helping child victims.
“The reality is they have a lot to do,” Hartin said. “We try to fill in the gaps. This mission cannot be successful without a community coming together.”
For more information about Blanket Fort Hope, visit Blanketforthope.org.
McDowell’s and Hartin’s presentation tied in with April being Child Abuse Awareness Month.
The Chamber also spotlighted other non-profit organizations in Shelby County at the luncheon.