Leadership Tomorrow class project fights human trafficking

Leadership Tomorrow Class 32 wants to make a lasting impact with their class project.

They’ve heard the statistics and stories that describe the reality of human trafficking, even in Grand Island. Now, they want to do something about it.

Every Leadership Tomorrow class has to come up with some type of project to help the community. Leadership Tomorrow Executive Director Jessica Hendricks said the purpose of the project is to address a need in the community. The class breaks into smaller groups, who come up with project ideas. They then pitch the ideas to the whole group and one idea is voted on.

Zac Griess, class member, said human trafficking was brought up by a police officer who is in the class. Griess said the officer was informing others in the class of the issue and had some ideas for the project.

The first phase of the project involved the TraffickCam app, where anyone with a smartphone can upload photos of hotel rooms to a law enforcement database. Sex traffickers often post photos of victims posed in hotel rooms for online advertisements. Investigators can use the ads as evidence to find victims and prosecute perpetrators if they can determine where the photos were taken.

The class hopes to help that database through their project. Small groups of class members asked local hotels if they could photograph hotel rooms to upload to the TraffickCam app.

A group of four classmates: Laurie Kulus, Jami Smith, Jacqui Nordstrom and Grady Erickson had a list of businesses they wanted to visit on Thursday.

The group visited the Red Coach Inn to ask permission to photograph the rooms for the app’s database and to hang up resource signs from Disrupting Traffick.

The signs and informational cards are the second phase of the project. Disrupting Traffick is an organization that has a mission to fight human trafficking through outreach, community engagement and education, and to connect survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation to trauma-informed resources. Teams placed informational stickers on bathroom doors in case victims needed help with resources.

Griess said the project is something that will last, since the stickers with resource information will be up for a long time.

“It’s not just a project we can check off a box,” Griess said. “This is a project that, it’s in the news, it’s a real problem, it’s in our community, and it’s happening right now.”

The team of Kulus, Smith, Nordstrom and Erickson took photos at the Red Coach Inn, as many other hotels also allowed the class to take photos. Anyone can use the TraffickCam app when traveling to help the database find victims. The app is free and doesn’t store the hotel room photos on the phone, it just uploads them to the app right away.

The four team members shared how they felt about working on this project for the community.

“All of us were a little surprised when we had a panel come and speak to us (about human trafficking),” Nordstrom said.

Kulus said as a mom, it was worrisome that runaways are at high risk of being trafficked. She said she put herself in a parent’s shoes in that situation and how horrible that is.

Smith said it’s shocking how young kids are being trafficked. According to DoSomething.org, the average age people are introduced into the trafficking system is 12 to 14 years old.

Erickson said knowing that information and that sex trafficking happens in the community, something needs to be done.

“We have a moral obligation as leaders in the community,” Erickson said.