Main Event: 'We couldn't do this without our faith'
It was an evening to recognize efforts in abolishing child sex trafficking as Mission 21hosted its fifth annual Open Your Eyes Banquet, Oct. 16 at Kahler Apache.
Some 160 people attended the event, which included dinner, a silent auction, and an awards ceremony to recognize this year's affiliates.
The 2015 Affiliate of the Year award was presented to the Street Crimes Unit of the Rochester Police Department. Additional award recipients included Sisters of St. Francisand the Olmsted County Attorney's Office.
Gross proceeds of some $14,000 will support Mission 21 as it provides resources and restoration services to child victims of sex trafficking.
"I'm zealous and passionate about the cause," said Stephanie Holt,founder and director of Mission 21. "It's been an amazing five years. It's been hard, but God had a plan. Tonight we are celebrating our accomplishments, and recognizing these other groups that have helped us. It's been a collaborative effort to get to where we are now."
In opening remarks, Matthew Holt, co-founder of Mission 21, said, "I hear about all the trauma, as Stephanie brings it home. We couldn't do this without our faith."
He said Stephanie has a unique courage and tenacity for her work.
"She continues to push through so much difficulty, and to fight for the kids and look for the kids who need help," he said.
Keynote speaker Dr. Arne Graffspoke, in part, about the health and medical problems seen in victims of trafficking.
"People tonight are intent in learning more about the work of Mission 21," he said. "The organization is effective in bringing in multiple agencies to help."
Rochester Mayor Ardell Bredeattended the banquet in support.
"In my role as mayor, I want to call attention to this issue," he said. "It's so clear that so many in Rochester have no idea this is going on. Thanks to law enforcement that are working on this."
"This night is really important for us as we want to raise awareness," said Mission 21's community education director, Kimber Schletty. "We're happy to have people behind us, supporting what we're doing. It's really important to get the collaborative moment here together."
Schletty said the organization has reached out to some 26,000 people with their message but, "We have not even reached a fourth of the community. There's so much more that we need to do."
Schletty said it is personally fulfilling to her to know the organization is making a difference.
"The changes in laws locally and at the state level are huge milestones," she said.
Attendee Kati Cooleyis in her first year as a board member of Mission 21.
"Yes, I recently joined the board. I have three daughters," she said. "These children (served by Mission 21) are someone's daughters. That tugged at my heart. I didn't want to sit on the sidelines anymore, but wanted to be proactive."
Five Sisters of St. Francis — Sister Christine Stanoch, Sister Martha, Sister Anne, Sister Mary Elliot, and Sister Brianna McCarthy— attended the banquet. They accepted the 2015 affiliate award for their work in raising awareness and community action.
Their efforts have involved raising awareness through multiple means, such as billboards carrying the message, "Our Children are Precious, Let's Protect Them," and plays created by Rochester's high school students.
"The plays awakened some 2,000 young adults to the issue," McCarthy said.
Attendee Netti Phang, who volunteers her time with the events planning committee, said she first became aware of the issue in her university's law and order club.
"After learning how prevalent it was in Rochester, I attended this event last year," she said. "Child sex trafficking is not just on TV or in bigger cities. It's really here, and it's not as hidden as we think it is."
Marilyn Moremsaid she was attending Open Your Eyes as a representative of AAUW, American Association of University Women.
"Human trafficking is one of the top priorities of the national AAUW," she said.
Morem, who has researched the issue, said she was "flabbergasted by the numbers involved. Twenty million across the world. It can happen anywhere."
For more information, visit www.mission21mn.org .