MATT KELLNER - UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
When I first arrived in Chicago two years ago as a freshman at the University of Chicago, I was convinced that I wanted to spend my college years working toward a PhD in biology. Like most undergrads, though, I’ve seen my best-laid career plans fluctuate quite a bit and, fortunately, lead me to IOFA for this summer.
Although I had been active in LGBTQ organizations and had worked with my university’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs since coming to college, my first exposure to human trafficking issues didn’t come until the beginning of this past year. Early in the fall, I was lucky enough to hear Brenda Myers-Powell, who started the Dreamcatcher Foundation here in Chicago, talk about her personal experiences with sex trafficking. Brenda’s honestly illuminated how many misconceptions I had about prostitution and pointed out the disturbing extent of sexual exploitation in the city I now call home. Spurred by what I had heard, I became more involved in anti-trafficking work, through my campus’ chapter of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
Through Summer Links--a UChicago program that pairs students with Chicago-based social justice organizations for summer internships and orients them to the city at large--I was given the opportunity to join the IOFA team this summer, and I couldn’t be more excited! As an intern with IOFA, I’m looking forward to combining my interests in LGBTQ rights and trafficking issues to address an area that is often overlooked. This summer, I’ll be working with the LGBTQ subcommittee of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, as well as helping to develop the Coordinated Services Referral Network to better equip organizations with the resources to help trafficking victims. Look out for future blog posts, and here’s to a productive, powerful, and empowering summer!
When there’s a will, there’s a way.
I first learned about human trafficking through a seminar in a tiny church in Kansas City. At the time, awareness of trafficking in my hometown was minimal and action was even more negligible.
In Chicago six years later, I have been leading Loyola University’s chapter of Free the Slaves to raise awareness of trafficking and to empower students to stand up for vulnerable and trafficked youths. As I pass the baton on to new students, I look back and realize that, in addition to growing our understanding of the complexities of human trafficking, our team has also learned the necessity of collaboration and strategy as we fight exploitation.
As an intern with IOFA, I am excited to promote understanding of the vulnerabilities that lead to trafficking – and how we can curb them. I look forward to enabling key stakeholders in youths’ lives to better recognize and provide legal and social resources to trafficking victims. I commit to smoothing a way for vulnerable youths to enter adulthood, knowing freedom and empowerment.
The will to fight trafficking has been there for quite some time; now I join IOFA’s team in helping create an effective way.
It’s great to be on board!