10 years ago we created our “Love in Action” award, for people who – from their unique vocation or passions, have taken inspiring action to further our mission.
These awards have spanned from high-profile entrepreneurs like Michelle Phan, to Love146 collaborators in the field, like FBI Special Agent Wendy Bowersox, and Minal Patel Davis who is the Mayor of Houston’s Special Advisor on Human Trafficking.
Our 2023 Awardees are Aria Flood, Legacy Soccer, The Neikerk Family and Salem Lutheran Church, Samara Negrin, and Sharon Knechtle and Pura Vida for Children. They have sustained and encouraged our efforts to help end the trafficking and exploitation of children.
Aria has been with Love146 since 2015, and leads our Prevention efforts in the United States. Prior to joining Love146, Aria worked for Teach for America and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of Texas. One of our core values as an organization is intentional thoughtfulness, and she shows us this value constantly. As our knowledge increases, we tweak, we make things better — and Aria leads that process extraordinarily well, from program planning and implementation to evaluation of our prevention activities.
Aria is a voice of joy and truth – a mentor and friend to many, she is always ready to celebrate personal and professional victories small and large for her friends and colleagues. Her joy comes with a commitment to truth telling, and she consistently calls others to look at wider context and unseen angles. With these gifts, she has shaped Love146 and the anti-trafficking movement in important ways, including bringing more integrity in addressing disparities, and furthering a public health approach to preventing exploitation. Aria has also served on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Human Trafficking Leadership Academy, where her cohort focused on “Address Institutional Inequities and Barriers to Accessing Services for Survivors of Human Trafficking and Communities of Color.”
Aria is a fierce advocate, exemplifies love in action, and we know thousands of children are safer and stronger because of her efforts.
Legacy Soccer is a non-profit soccer club in Houston, Texas. Legacy Soccer was established in 2020 to provide a fresh family approach to Select Soccer. They’re serious about soccer – but anyone who encounters this group can tell they are different. The folks at Legacy Soccer believe there is a difference between being successful and being significant. According to Legacy: “While we strive for excellence on the field, our mission off the field is to develop young people who have a significant impact in their local community and beyond.” This incredible vision is in no small part to Lee Baker, their director. He’s an earnest and inspiring person.
At the beginning of 2022,, we got a call from Lee sharing an idea for the 2022-2024 soccer seasons: they wanted to place Love146’s logo on their jerseys in lieu of a sponsorship; in their own words: “Our jerseys will be more than just a jersey, and will allow us to educate our players and those they encounter on the hard truths behind child trafficking.” That idea is now a striking reality, with over 450 young players who hit the field with the Love146 logo on their jerseys.
And the impact extends beyond the field. We’re hearing so many stories about how this is sparking conversations; we heard just recently about a young person who shared about this issue with their dentist because they wore the jersey to their appointment. Another player chose to focus a recent school project on the issue of child trafficking and their ideas about ending it.
Legacy Soccer is creating a lasting impact.
Salem Lutheran church has been supporting Love146 for over 10 years. Since April of 2013, they’ve provided significant and consistent funding for our work. And they’re not just writing checks: over the years, they’ve provided their congregation with meaningful ways to engage and be educated, and they’ve also had a very active Love146 volunteer team in the Houston community.
They are people who believe, like we do, that change is possible. Leading this support of Love146 by Salem is their senior pastor, Tim Neikerk, and his family. Even as we planned our gala, the Neikerks have been the folks texting us saying “we’re happy to help with anything so let me know” Every time an opportunity to volunteer arrives, Tim and Kristin’s children, Josiah and Gabrielle have jumped in to support the efforts as well.
They’ve walked with us and been such an encouragement to us on this journey — and they’re everything we hope for in a faith community partnership. We’re grateful for the Neikerk family and all those a part of this support at Salem Lutheran church.
At Love146, we see that it’s children who are doing the hardest work to end exploitation. Samara is another reminder that we should never underestimate the power that young people have to bring change. Over the past year, Samara Negrin has been raising awareness about human trafficking through a campaign called “Create a Tidal Wave,” She’s been educating other youth AND adults about the issue of trafficking. She’s been at community events around the region – raising the alarm that this issue matters. She’s distributed over 1,100 pieces of literature, created over 1400 bracelets and keychains to raise awareness about this issue, and collected over 500 messages of hope from the people she’s educated, which is now in our Connecticut office. All of this was part of her effort to earn the prestigious and rare Gold Award from Girl Scouts. In her own vision, Samara reminds us that every action we take can make a difference – in her own words, “These ripples of awareness will continue to create a tidal wave that can crush this heinous crisis.”
Young people have the power to change the world – and we know the first step in ending this problem is awareness. Samara is a part of seeing a generation free from trafficking.
Sharon Knechtle and Pura Vida for Children have been supporting our work to end child trafficking with incredible generosity for almost 15 years. At Love146, one of our core values is steady perseverance — Sharon is a shining example of this. People who stick with us for the long haul are so important — the reason we can do this work is because there are people, like Sharon, who we can depend on – to support and encourage — not with a spasm of passion, but with steady perseverance. Sharon and Pura Vida show up year after year to meet the needs of children.
Love146 believes in the transformative power of this work is through relationships that we form. When we do our work with youth, we’re on a journey together. We know and trust one another. This is true in our work with survivors, but also in our fundraising and engagement. A colleague of ours who exemplified this love and relationship building was Andrew Zsigmond, who tragically passed away last year. We know Andrew cared about relationships. He didn’t see dollar signs – he saw people, and he loved people. Sharon is one of those people who Andrew loved dearly. Even though Andrew isn’t here for this journey today, his legacy lives in the impact people like Sharon Knechtle continue to make.
We’re in awe of Sharon’s faithful efforts to show love in a practical way. She’s changed lives and sparked a passion in so many others throughout her community.