Friday, June 15, 2012

IOFA Champion, Tracy O'Dowd, Running, Biking, Swimming to Support Vulnerable Young People

Please welcome guest blogger and IOFA champion, Tracy O'Dowd, as she talks about her upcoming challenge to do the unthinkable (for me anyway) - a triathlon to raise money in support of IOFA's work!

I am very much not athletic by nature.  But a little less than a year ago, I got the crazy idea in my head that I wanted to do a sprint triathlon.  Easier and way less intimidating than a full triathlon and doesn't involve (at least) four hours of running, I thought.  I started swimming for the first time since I was a kid, and I reluctantly (and SLOWLY) took up running.  (I was already commuting often enough by bike for it to be familiar.)  This new adventure also made me really excited for the goal.  I--someone who couldn't really run a block without getting totally winded--was going to have some sort of athletic achievement.  It made me want to share this personally amazing (and yet, somewhat self-centered) goal with an organization that was really important to me.

I used to work with trafficking survivors.  The incredible strength I saw in so many of those men and women inspired me (it still does), but their needs were many.  At that time, there were not good systems in place to support them as they worked to rebuild their lives, and there were not enough resources (there never are!) to assist them in the way that they deserved.  As much as I will always be grateful for the things they taught me, I often think about how many more of them are out there--around the world, in the US, in our own towns--and how no one should have to go through the things my former clients endured.  It was all because they were in a vulnerable position due to a lack of familial support, economic support, and most often, there just weren't opportunities where they were.  They were vulnerable for whatever reason, and someone took advantage of it.  No one should be exploited or abused for any reason.

I learned about IOFA through my old work, and I kept in touch with them as I moved on.  I have been impressed over and over again by the work that they do and how practically they do it.  They focus on adolescents (defined as those between 12 and 25--when the brain stops developing) because this age group is most at risk for being exploited, and failure to respond to the needs of this age group has the greatest long-term impact on a society.  They work in the Chicago area, on a national level, and in multiple countries around the world.
Reasons I love and want to support IOFA (and why I think you should, too)

- IOFA focuses on making the systems surrounding vulnerable youth work better instead of trying to re-create the system. The organization does a lot of training to share its expertise with the folks who often don't realize that they are already in contact with trafficked individuals or who may not know how to respond to them.

- IOFA works from evidence-based practice, meaning they focus on problems and solutions for which they have evidence.

- In terms of stopping human exploitation, IOFA cares about everything from the point of preventing it in the first place to the need for a response when it does happen.

- IOFA strives to build the entire community's capacity to respond to human trafficking. This includes creating a model of collaboration between law enforcement and social services.

- IOFA consists of two paid staff members. They make a few resources go a ridiculously long way!

And more specifically:

- In Chicago, IOFA has created a Coordinated Service Referral Network in conjunction with their role on Chicago's human trafficking task force so that all victims of trafficking receive efficient and appropriate referrals for their unique needs.

- In the U.S., child welfare agencies are often not aware or not equipped to work with the many U.S. born trafficking victims that they see. IOFA co-wrote the Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking Handbook, with the Center for the Human Rights of Children, at Loyola University, to help agencies screen, provide effective case management to, inform on legal protections for, and find resources for trafficking victims who child welfare workers encounter. This handbook has already been picked up as a model for child welfare systems in South Carolina, Georgia, California and other states.

- They are currently working on the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia and Cambodia which focuses on children aging out of orphanages who are extremely vulnerable if they are not prepared for life outside of the institution. They hope to provide a life skills curriculum for orphanages and help organizations build networks of support for kids who are aging out of child welfare systems worldwide.  

- They are always looking to expand the successful work they've already done.

(And if you're looking for more information, check out their website at

So with all this in mind, please join me in supporting them.  What they do is way more challenging than a triathlon.

And if you're up for it, come cheer me on at the Chicago Triathlon on Sunday, August 26!  It's for me, it's for them, and it's for all the lives their work touches here in Chicago and around the globe.

Tracy O'Dowd
IOFA Champion

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