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Hope Found of
Northeast Arkansas:
Standing Against
Human Trafficking

by Cody Moore, Photos by Melissa Donner

Two years ago, four Jonesboro women took it upon themselves to start their own nonprofit organization, Hope Found of Northeast Arkansas, in order to do their part to end human trafficking by creating awareness and educating communities.

Hope Found of Northeast Arkansas (Hope Found) founders include Jonesboro residents Megan Brown, who serves as the board president, Audra King, who serves as vice president and fundraising committee chair, Mary Sellers, secretary and program development chair, and Miranda Ballard, co-treasurer.

“Audra and I met in college, and I met Mary and Miranda through my former church,” said Brown. “All three women connected with me after they learned more about human trafficking and decided they wanted to do something to try and end it. Together, we saw the need for more education and awareness in the community, as well as the need to have a program that specifically served victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

King felt the same way. After learning what was going on here in Northeast Arkansas, she could no longer stand by idly.

“Once I found out that people were being so badly mistreated, I knew I had to stand in the gap to help bring them justice and hope,” said King. “The number one way to stop a problem is bring it to light. Using my voice to bring awareness to the injustice done to so many is a small step to bringing an end to modern day slavery.”

Though Hope Found was founded in 2018, it didn’t officially become a nonprofit organization until 2019. Brown says that Hope Found’s mission is to educate and meet the needs of those directly affected by human trafficking.

“Hope Found of NEA is a grassroots faith-based nonprofit organization focused on serving those that have been affected by human trafficking,” said Brown. “We also create awareness and educate the community by presenting our human trafficking 101 presentations to a variety of audiences.”

“It’s so important to have an organization like Hope Found in Northeast Arkansas,” added Ballard. “I would say that the vast majority of people don’t think that these things can happen here, and they do.”

In most cases, traffickers prey on vulnerable populations such as runaways, the homeless, children in foster care, those with substance abuse issues and those in trouble with the law.

“We want everyone to realize they do have a role in fighting human trafficking by becoming educated and involved in your community’s organizations that serve vulnerable populations,” said Brown.

One of Hope Found’s main focuses is providing an array of services to human trafficking victims that they may not have direct access to upon being identified.

“We know that a person affected by trafficking cannot start healing from their trauma until they are in a safe place, so that is one of the first things we assess and try to meet – get them to a safe and stable place,” said Brown. “Since there are no safe houses for victims of trafficking in NEA, we must look to our partners across the state and in other states. If their desire is to return to family, then we will arrange for that to happen. From there, we can assess their needs and goals.”

Hope Found also provides essential items to each rescued victim through its Bags of Hope initiative.

“Bags of Hope are backpacks that are filled with hygiene items, clothing, a journal, a Bible and more,” said Brown. “We give these backpacks to law enforcement (officers) so they can be given to a victim of trafficking or a runaway once identified. We want these backpacks to be able to provide some dignity and trust between law enforcement and victims. We also keep a stock of the Bags of Hope items in our office for whenever one of the beautiful people we serve may need something.”

For more long-term needs, such as education or employment opportunities, Hope Found works to provide those connections to each victim, as well.

“When victims are coming out of the life, they often have nothing,” said Sellers. “Their trafficker normally keeps their identification documents and any money they have.”

“We work to connect them to our mental health partners, assist with helping them obtain employment, education, connect them to a faith community if desired and provide advocacy for them so they can know they are loved and supported,” added Brown. “Everything we do is survivor-centered, so this means that they decide what they want and need; we don’t force them to do anything, but only encourage and wait until they decide they are ready.”

Because January serves as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Hope Found has plans to host and participate in several events throughout the month.

“Due to COVID-19, we are limited to what we can do,” said Brown. “So far, we have plans to host a Bags of Hope supply drive, participate in #WearBlueDay on Jan. 11 and launch our poster campaign. We will be doing our human trafficking 101 presentations throughout the month, too.”

The Bags of Hope supply drive will take place throughout the month of January with drop-off locations in Jonesboro at The Honey Baked Ham Company, located at 2001 E. Nettleton Ave., and Southern Confections, located at 2704 Phillips Drive. Essential items such as Ziploc bags, backpacks, undergarments, sports bras, socks, sweatpants, long-sleeved shirts, house shoes, face masks, gift cards for food and gas, Bibles and journals are all being accepted.

As Hope Found continues to grow and become more active in the area, the nonprofit organization will begin to utilize members of the community who choose to participate as Hope Found volunteers.

“We are still working on how we can best utilize volunteers,” said Brown. “Recently, we have been using volunteers to help with our fundraisers, but eventually we will need volunteers to help manage our help line, serve as Hope Found advocates and help with public speaking.”

Though each of Hope Found’s founders have their own reasons for starting the nonprofit, they each share the same heart for human trafficking victims and their future as survivors.

“God has given me a heart for vulnerable populations, specifically those that have been affected by human trafficking or could be potential targets for human trafficking,” said Brown. “I want to fight for those that are unable to fight for themselves and help empower them to find hope through Jesus and begin their journey toward healing and restoration.”

“This organization has educated hundreds of people on what human trafficking is while being able to help victims become survivors with the resources and time donated to our organization,” added Ballard. “This subject can be so dark and hard to talk about, but it needs to be brought to light in order to help those suffering and prevent others from falling into the same trap.”

As for the future of Hope Found, each of the founders has high hopes for the organization’s mission and the positive effect it could have on human trafficking victims within the Jonesboro community.

“One of our big dreams that we are praying for is to be able to open a safe house and restoration center for survivors of human trafficking,” said Brown. “It would be a place where survivors can find rest, connect with other survivors, learn life and job skills, have mental health support, learn more about Jesus, have fun and work towards transitioning back into their community.

“Many have given their time, talents, resources, have prayed for us and donated to help the development of our program, as well as further our mission. We have been so grateful for the support shown by our community since Hope Found’s inception.”

For more information on Hope Found of NEA, how to become volunteer, request a 101 presentation or for direct donation links, visit hopefoundofnea.org or find Hope Found of Northeast Arkansas on Facebook and Instagram. For anyone in need of Hope Found’s services, call the organization’s help line at (877) 688-HOPE (4673).