Friday, June 29, 2012

Five Exciting Things Happening at IOFA

1. We reached 60% of our fundraising goal for the 2012 Spring/Summer Appeal - there's still time to give:

2. Tomorrow night, June 30th, is our first major fundraiser of the year; Bollywood Nights.  If you're in Chicago, please attend. Join us for a night of music with Bollywood singer, Poonam Bhatia at the Alhambra Palace.

3. IOFA was awarded $4,000 from the Asian Giving Circle for our Asian-American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP). IOFA will be building collaborative community partnerships to identify more victims of trafficking and exploitation in Chicago's Asian American communities.  More to come.

4. Executive Director, Shelby French and IOFA interns, Amy Gilbert (Loyola University) and Aatifa Sadiq (University of Chicago) will be traveling to Ethiopia this weekend to pilot Project Prepare Ethiopia; a life skills curriculum to prepare youth to age out of orphanage care.  Check our blog for updates from the field every Friday from July through September.

5. And please welcome the newest additions to our IOFA team: Nikhitha Murali and Kelleen O'Leary.

Nikhitha Murali, University of Chicago

As I finish my first year as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I am thrilled to begin my internship this summer at IOFA! I plan on majoring in Comparative Human Development with a minor in Biology. My previous experience advocating for health equity in rural India has fostered within me a great love of service. It was in India that I was first exposed to the horrors of third world poverty, corruption, and their implications. After volunteering as a patient advocate in a South Side clinic, I was shocked to find that many problems typically associated with third world destitution are prevalent right here in Chicago. I am hugely astonished and frustrated by the lack of attention human trafficking has received both in Chicago and globally. As I begin my summer, I look forward to learning understanding the issue of human trafficking on a local level, as well as understanding how I can best serve affected populations from the nonprofit sector.

Working with Asian American communities will be one of my primary projects here at IOFA as I work to develop the Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP). I look forward to developing partnerships with Asian American community members in order to facilitate the recognition and proper treatment of trafficking victims, particularly by establishing rapport among mental health providers. I am grateful to be joining my inspiring and accomplished colleagues at IOFA in representing these underserved victims, and excited for the learning opportunities this summer will bring!

Kelleen O’Leary, Loyola University

I am a rising 3L at Loyola University Chicago’s law school and am excited to work with IOFA this summer.  I am interested in the area of child law, and law school has afforded me many opportunities to get hands-on experience in this field.  I have previously volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and interned at the Civitas ChildLaw Clinic.  By mixing direct service with behind-the-scenes experience, my volunteer work and my internship together helped me to discover that the area of child law resonates deeply with me. Working with IOFA gives me the chance to work on several international children’s rights projects.  I will be concentrating my efforts on coordinating the ChildRight project and assisting with the Transitions Initiative.  I look forward to the challenges of on-the-ground advocacy  both in the urban context of Chicago and on a larger international scale.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

IOFA Fundraiser Bollywood Nights this Saturday, June 30th!

Please attend IOFA's Bollywood Nights, June 30th, Alhambra Palace, Chicago, Illinois.  Help IOFA help youth escape from slavery and exploitation.   Details below...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Welcome Camil Sanchez-Palumbo!

The great intern transition of 2012 continues.  Please welcome Camil Sanchez-Palumbo from Washington University in St. Louis.

My name is Camil Sanchez-Palumbo and I am delighted to have the opportunity to intern this summer at IOFA.  Assisting in the planning of the Cook County Human Trafficking Conference taking place on August 16th and 17th will be one of my areas of focus for the summer, and I look forward to broadening my knowledge on human trafficking and other global issues affecting vulnerable youth, as well.  Learning about others' lived experiences and serving individuals has always given me great joy and I am happy to continue doing so at IOFA.

Pursuing an International and Area Studies major at Washington University in St. Louis, I am passionate about working internationally with individuals from all walks of life.  I have traveled in various parts of Central and South America, gaining particular insight as a Youth Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State, an endeavor during which I worked with non-profit organizations dealing with urban youth.  In my studies and travel, I have found representing the often unrepresented to be both stimulating and enlightening.  As IOFA works similarly to represent individuals' struggles and realities, I could not be more grateful or thrilled to partake in the enriching experience as an intern here.

Welcome Camil!

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Welcome to IOFA's 2012/13 Summer Interns

Over the next couple of weeks, IOFA will be welcoming a new group of interns here in our Chicago office and at our Transitions Initiative project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  This week we are happy to introduce Amy and Laura.

Amy Gilbert, Child and Family Law Fellow, Loyola University 

Upon finishing my first year of law school at Loyola University of Chicago, I am extremely eager and excited to begin my summer (and beyond) with IOFA! I will primarily be working on the Transitions Initiative project and I will also be traveling to Ethiopia for seven weeks to implement Project Prepare. Not only am I thrilled to be able to pilot such a significant and remarkable program, but Project Prepare is also extremely important to me as I have worked with numerous teenage youth aging out of care, unprepared and forced to enter into the complex reality of adulthood. Prior to beginning law school, I worked as a paralegal for the New York Legal Aid Society representing juveniles in abuse, neglect, and delinquency proceedings in Bronx Family Court. I was amazed and inspired daily by the powerful connections I was able to make with these youth, and humbled by their strength and resiliency. I was also shocked and frustrated with the seemingly countless obstacles and hardships faced by so many of these youth. I am eager to continue working with this population, and to expand into the international field. I am also looking forward to an incredible seven weeks in Ethiopia and to combine my passion and goals with a wonderful group of motivated and hard working people at IOFA!

Laura Horner, Legal Intern, DePaul University

My name is Laura Horner and I am one of IOFA’s new legal interns for the summer.  I will be assisting IOFA in the planning and developing of the Cook County Human Trafficking Conference, which will take place on August 16th and 17th.  I am very excited about the opportunity to work with IOFA as human trafficking is an issue that I have been interested in for quite some time. This internship will give me the opportunity to learn more about the issue and to learn what steps can be taken in order to combat human trafficking.

In the fall, I will start my third year at DePaul University College of Law.   During my second year at DePaul I participated in two immigration legal clinics and loved the experience of working with immigrants.  Because of these clinics I am interested in pursuing a career in immigration law.  Through these clinics I learned that human trafficking is a major issue in immigration and one that is not easily solved.  I am hoping that this internship will help me understand the issues that arise when working with trafficked immigrants and how to help them with not just their immigration cases, but also with getting them the help they need as survivors of trafficking. 

I have only been at IOFA a few days, but I already love the experience.  I look forward to the rest of the summer and what it has in store for IOFA.

Welcome Amy and Laura!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Saying Goodbye to IOFA's 2011/12 Interns

It's that time of year again when we have to say goodbye to another talented group of interns that have made significant contributions to IOFA's work.  Today we wrap things up with Summar, Meesoh, and Carly and say hello to Amy Gilbert, Laura Horner, and more to come over the summer.  Here are some parting words from last year's crew below.

It’s been quite the ride. My internship at IOFA has taught me a wide variety of things, but it has most importantly solidified my desire to continue to work in innovative ways to combat human trafficking both domestically and internationally. Whether through the facilitation of the Training Subcommittee for the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, through research and design of a future victim survey, or through research to building the child welfare response to trafficking, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse array of thoughtful and passionate people dedicated to eradicating modern-day slavery from within our own borders. What sets IOFA apart is that these somewhat lofty goals are tackled pragmatically, giving me the critical push to hone my own ability to strategically foster relationships, build networks and learn from the various political, economic and contextual climates that impede victim service delivery on a grand scale. As these projects move forward in groundbreaking ways, I’m also moving forward as a more thoughtful and dedicated advocate for adolescents worldwide. I take these experiences with me, ready and more than willing to continue to fight for fundamental human rights for vulnerable women, men and children around the world. Thanks IOFA, for providing me with the necessary fodder to keep fighting the good fight!

-Summar Ghias, Program Development Intern

I cannot believe it is already time for me to leave IOFA. Two months have flown by and it is with a little bit of both pain and joy that I write my final blog post. The pain, of course, comes from my very short stay. I especially regret that I will be missing the Human Trafficking Conference in August and the AAATOP community forum in September (so don’t miss them!). But I am proud to say that I am also leaving IOFA with a strong sense of fulfillment. That fulfillment not only comes from the amount of knowledge and skills I have acquired but also from working with a group of very dedicated people on projects that will be critical in protecting and promoting youth’s well-being. So thank you Shelby, Sehla, Summar, and Carly for this amazing experience! And with that, I will now go from being an intern at IOFA to being a strong supporter of IOFA’s work.

-Meesoh Kim, Program Development Intern

What initially led me to IOFA—its international work with orphaned and vulnerable youth aging out of care, its innovative domestic work with building a better response to human trafficking, and its overall organizational focus on tackling critical and emerging issues facing adolescents—are all of the reasons that I now find it so difficult to close the page on this chapter of my time at IOFA and turn my focus to the next steps ahead of me. Since my internship in Ethiopia last summer to the continuation of my field work here in Chicago, I have been grateful for the experiences that I have had and know that the knowledge I gained during my time at IOFA will serve me well as I look to pursue a career in International Social Work. The dedication of the IOFA team to collaborate and work on issues that are so often overlooked by the broader community has cemented in me the desire to steer my future work towards finding and supporting projects and organizations that work to ameliorate the inequalities facing women and youth around the world today. Transitioning from my work as an intern to that of an IOFA supporter, I look forward to following the progression of Project Prepare (the current IOFA curriculum, developed and informed by last summer’s research, for youth preparing to age of out care) through its development and implementation stages. There is much to be said about my experience at IOFA that cannot be summarized in a paragraph or even in several; rather, what comes to mind is a quote from Martin H. Fischer, which states that, “The world is your school.” IOFA has certainly taught me well, and I go forth with a new understanding of the world around me—one I hope to continue to learn from. Thank you, IOFA, for the experience and thank you for all of the work that you do!

-Carly Loehrke, Program Development Intern