LOVE146 CENTRAL FLORIDA VOLUNTEER TEAM
Giving up is never the right answer. Reevaluating, yes, reimagining, of course — but never giving up.
Yet that was nearly the end result of our Central Florida Love146 Volunteer Team. After a year of floundering and watching our attendance numbers plummet from where they were at the team’s formation, we almost folded up shop and abandoned the hard-won groundwork we had laid.
What a mistake that would have been.
We soon got a second wind that led us to put on more awareness events in West Orlando than we had even considered doing the year before. Here’s how it all went down.
Stage 1: Fervor and Rage
In early 2015, Love146 President and Co-founder Rob Morris spoke at a church service here in West Orlando. His words did two important things:
- They brought a brand new awareness to a set of people who were unaware of the staggering extent of human trafficking in our world (or at least in our country).
- They pulled listeners who were moderately aware of the issue away from the fringes and into the war room, where the choices become “taking action” or “willingly ignoring a crisis.”
As most people do not wish to ignore a crisis when it arrives at their doorstep, the response to Rob’s visit was tremendous. Well over 100 people attended the training course for those interested in joining our new Love146 Volunteer Team.
It’s not hard to understand why. Recognizing that the streets you drive every day have dark underpinnings involving the exploitation of children — the most vulnerable subset of humanity — is enough to jumpstart any dormant heart. Loose-cannon emotions, including shock, mourning, and rage toward perpetrators, fire off without asking permission.
Over 100 people decided to learn how to productively aim their cannons.
Stage 2: The Long Road Ahead
But emotions, even the strongest we possess, do not sustain a movement.
Over the course of a few weeks, the number of training attendees fell by dozens. Still, we had enough people interested by the end to warrant splitting the volunteers into two separate groups, based on geography.
Quickly, maybe two months into launching our team, the group I joined was struggling to reach double digits in attendees each month. There were several months in which only three or four of us showed up, and later we learned the other group had faced an almost identical drop-off.
There are a number of explanations for these plummeting numbers. Many attendees were looking to get involved in the thick of the issue immediately. When they found that we would not be breaking down traffickers’ doors or working directly with survivors, but would rather need to spend a long time learning about the problem and taking important (but less adrenaline-pumping) actions, their patience wore out. Couple this with the obvious reality that life is busy, especially in our culture, and the picture becomes clear: it’s difficult to prioritize the long journey of becoming educated and prepared in obscurity over the pull of family or other more immediately fruitful endeavors.
Stage 3: The Dilemma of the Remnant
On those nights when less than a handful of us would show up, it was hard to keep the conversation from turning to how difficult it would be to make any real impact in our community with such meager help. I felt deeply discouraged and probably would have let the team die off had I been responsible for it.
Thankfully, I wasn’t. We continued to meet, to try to keep our fervor alive, and to look into some sort of event we could put on that might help awareness grow. We eventually did put on that event — a year later than originally planned.
Stage 4: Real Change
Two years from his first visit, Rob returned to the same stage. This time, however, we had a Volunteer Team already in place. We were prepared to receive that initial round of passionate activists, but more important, we knew they were not all going to stay. That was OK. We needed companions who would link arms with us for the long haul. That’s exactly what we got.
Our team doubled from about seven or eight core members, and suddenly we had enough mental and physical resources to put on the events we’d spoken of for quite some time.
In January, we held an awareness walk, inviting community members to come and hear true stories of trafficked and exploited children in a quiet outside setting. Since then, we’ve also held four community empowerment initiatives, going out into the heart of Orlando’s tourist areas and dropping off resources for hotel and motel staff, including posters that list the most common signs of trafficking.
There are more on the way: our goal is to visit every hotel and motel in Central Florida, and we may accomplish that in little over a year. We’re also planning our first 5k late this fall.
Not Giving Up
From those bleak nights of three or four people meeting together, feeling powerless to fight the world’s darkness on any level, we have emerged with a solid core of volunteers capable of impacting every corner of Central Florida.
Really, our story reflects the difficulties of anyone interested in fighting child trafficking: the initial inspiration, the long road of education, listening, and inaction, the waning fervor, and a crossroads in which you must make a mature decision, with both heart and head, to pursue what is necessary to end child trafficking, even if the road is long, complicated, and uncelebrated.
If you’re reading this, I hope you refuse to give up. The issue was always complex; we must be willing to address it on equally complex terms in order that hope might thrive.