Ending Sex Trafficking in the USA
Meet Abbi Tenaglia, modern day abolitionist and hero
What was it that inspired you to take action and why did you choose to do something about human trafficking?
I was introduced to the concept of human trafficking in August, 2010 by Christine Caine, the founder of the A21 Campaign. She spoke through a simulcast at my church. I remember being sad and angry and I remember this overwhelming sense of needing to teach these kids that she was talking about how to experience true freedom. So initially I decided I was going to move myself and my daughter to Greece to work with A21. As I did more research (because I love digging and researching and learning new things), I realized that I didn't actually need to go anywhere and that the emotions and backgrounds (even before being trafficked) that the kids in the US were experiencing were very similar to some terrible choices I made in my late teens/early 20's. I was taken advantage of when I was 17 and my life just went down hill very fast after that. I started using drugs, sleeping around and even trading sex for drugs. I got pregnant when I was 21 and I continued this lifestyle while putting my child in danger of becoming one of these children that I was learning about. Fast forward to 2010, I'm now 25, have found Christ, found a church and am growing in my love & relationship with Christ and His people. Learning about human trafficking after experiencing all that I did, lit a fire in my heart to start teaching girls how to make better decisions in spite of what others have done to them.
What background or preparation did you have, if any before you started Emma's home?
My background is in business management and accounting so once Transforming Hope
was formed in my mind, I knew what to do as far as legally setting up and making us a public nonprofit. I have had no training or background in working with kids so God provided some amazing equipped staff to help me learn. I also continue my research as much as I can. I am constantly learning to this day and my best teachers are my staff and the girls living in the home.
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
Our greatest challenge as an organization has been getting the funds we need to do our jobs with excellence. I believe this is because there is not enough awareness and education so no one really knows what exactly is going on. That's my job....to teach people so that they can educate others and all can help fund the work that we do to transform lives.
What has been your greatest victory so far?
Within the last month we have started to see the program work for the girls, mostly from the educational standpoint. When they came in, they were at least a year behind and they were discouraged, frustrated and ready to give up. They are caught up now and one is even on track to graduate early. Seeing them realize exactly what they are capable of has been the most rewarding gift so far. It is doing exactly what we wanted to do...transforming their lives and giving them hope for their futures to become business managers and pediatricians and whatever else they want to do because they no longer have to be a slave to anyone.
What has been the one thing that has broken your heart the most?
Someone told me very early on that for every one success story you hear, there are 10 people not making it through. In just a year of being open, we've already experienced one of those 10 not making it and it just tears me apart to continue watching her screaming for attention and help but not taking what we have to offer. The help she wants is a band aid, a quick fix out of a momentary bad situation but it won't sustain her, it won't set her free truly. It's hard for me to watch and not be able to help her.
How do you cope with the stories that you hear from the girls that you are helping?
I am honored to hear anything that a girl shares with me. In my mind, while everything they share breaks my heart, I am thankful that they've trusted me enough to tell me. So remembering that helps to focus on the positive (that we have created a safe enough place for them to open up) rather than on the negative sadness of the past.
How has this experience changed you to date?
Transforming Hope was started with the intention of transforming lives of victims, however I have witnessed God use Transforming Hope to change more than just their lives. I have become closer to God through this time. I have learned to trust others and learned to let go. I have learned the true meaning of freedom, that it isn't "do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it" but that true freedom comes with healthy boundaries, relationships, and lifestyles. Through this time, I have been able to create a healthier life for me and my daughter.
What do you hope for the future?
I want to see our girls successfully complete our program. I want to see them live out their dreams and I want to be at every college graduation and marriage and child's birth for as long as they allow me to participate in their lives. I also want to duplicate Emma's Home throughout the country (and maybe even the world!) as many times as I have funding for and eventually I want to create community drop-in centers that focus on kids ages 5-11 as a way of stopping the cycle before kids are ever trafficked. The average age of entry into trafficking is 12 but they experience sexual abuse, physical and verbal abuse, abandonment and all sorts of things long before ever being trafficked. I want to stop that and work with parents and kids before they even get to the point of trafficking mostly because I have been that parent and I had no one offer to walk with me and show me how to live better, how to be a better parent. If I can be that person for just one other single mom before I die, I will have done what I was made to do on this earth.
COME ON FREEDOMIZERS!!!! How freaking amazing is this woman? She heard about the issue, she stood up, she did something about it and she has a crazy beautiful vision of the future. How can we not stand behind her? Freedom Culture and Transforming Hope although very different have the same heart. To transform people's lives and ultimately the culture that sustains the sex trafficking industry. Let's use fashion to make a statement every time we wear it and translate that into helping Abbi, lead these girls into their futures. The time is NOW, to rise up and say that we will not tolerate slavery and actually DO something about it.
Love you guys!