Run 4 Justice held its fifth annual 5K Run/Walk Saturday at the Linn City Park to help increase awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds for Rescue Innocence, a Central Missouri-based …
Run 4 Justice held its fifth annual 5K Run/Walk Saturday at the Linn City Park to help increase awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds for Rescue Innocence, a Central Missouri-based not-for-profit organization. A total of 60 participants pre-registered for the event, and 17 registered on Saturday, meaning 77 people took part.
Organizer Diane Hopke said her biggest goal for this small town is to make sure no one is victimized by human trafficking.
“It is human nature to assure ourselves that an unpleasant or frightening event can’t happen where we live,” she said. “Too often, however, we are faced with life-altering experiences. Human trafficking is one of those scary realities frequently dismissed as being a threat to the citizens of Osage County. The truth is human trafficking is found in every state in the nation, and in urban, suburban, and rural areas. It is nothing short of 21st-century slavery.”
Hopke first began considering a local effort several years ago while attending a Christian women’s event, at which a speaker told of the fight against human trafficking.
“She told these heart-rending stories about people who thought they were being taken to a good job, but then were loaded into a crate like freight, with a bucket for a toilet and no food,” said Hopke. “I felt God laid it upon my heart to take up the fight, and I thought about what I could do for a couple of years. I believed there was more I could do than just donate money.”
For the last few years, proceeds from the event have been donated to Rescue Innocence because Hopke wanted to directly help a local organization.
Brent Messimer was led to co-founding Rescue Innocence in 2012. He trained overseas with anti-trafficking groups before bringing the organization home to mid-Missouri. Since then he has worked extensively to prevent cases of human trafficking through education, counseling, and targeted outreach.
“This is an impressive turnout for a small community like this,” said Messimer. “We’ve built momentum year after year. It’s something we take with us too when we talk to victims of human trafficking. We tell them there are people and communities that care about them, and we have resources available because of events like this that help the victims. They know there’s a whole community here in Linn that’s behind them and working every year to make people aware of what’s happening in their lives.”
Follow-up with survivors is something Messimer enjoys. “We get to work with a handful in Columbia,” he said. “We are constantly doing outreach and going to the places they’re located. We provide them with backpacks full of hygiene products and different things they can use immediately. It builds relationships when we meet those everyday needs.”
Each year, more victims are rescued but that’s only the beginning of the process.
“We connect survivors with mental health professionals that can help them with the healing process,” said Messimer. “We also walk beside a lot of the victims when they try to get housing, with furnishings through our partnership with Love Columbia, and we help them find jobs by helping with the application process, building a resume, and mock interviews. We’re with them every step of the way, and we have some people who provide pro bono counseling that we send survivors to.”
Rescue Innocence has assisted many victims of trafficking to begin new lives and have established a men's group to address "the demand" side of trafficking and to counsel past offenders.
The group also provides outreach to vulnerable populations, including the homeless, offenders, and youth by providing for basic needs., life coaching and counseling, educating youth at schools, camps, and clubs, and teaching adults to recognize signs of human trafficking.
The average age of sex trafficking victims is 12-19, which Hopke finds horrifying.
“Social media has become a huge tool for traffickers, who use it to develop relationships with their victims,” she said. “They pull them out of their environment and take them away. It’s hard to find them. Can you imagine your middle-school child disappearing, and never being seen again?”
According to stats provided by Rescue Innocence, there were 10,615 victims of human trafficking in the United States (2017), which was a 13% increase.
Messimer noted the hardest part about this is watching someone who has survived this go back. “There’s so much trauma and these people are told that being a slave is all they’re good for,” he added. “They’re told they’ll never go back to life as they knew it, and they’re turned into a product. It’s a very difficult road to recovery.”
Hopke said the long-standing belief has been that human trafficking is a problem in third-world countries but not the U.S., and if there is a problem here, it’s in the bigger cities, and not in small, rural communities.
However, recognition of the magnitude of the problem is growing in Missouri.
“If we think there’s nothing we can do to help stop trafficking, we’re wrong,” Hopke said. “There are many online resources to help recognize it and to help prevent it from happening to you or those you love. Resources are offered by the FBI, Homeland Security, and several not-for-profit organizations. I encourage readers to be vigilant, particularly of their children and young people. Trafficking does happen in this area. No one plans to be trafficked.”
Hopke and committee members Michelle Kliethermes, Mark Meyer, Gloria Scherf, Sheri Sullentrup, were joined by Dennis Hopke, Ed Scherf, Mark Sullentrup, Teresa Heidbrink, Irene Hollandsworth, Nathan Hollandsworth, Amanda Mueller, and David Branson in putting on the event.
The committee brainstorms ways to increase participation every year and keep talking about the event to others at any opportunity. A few more runners came from Road Runners, a running group in Jefferson City.
“People are becoming aware of the event and the challenging course,” said Hopke, adding there has been support from members of several of the area churches. “Prayers start for the next year's event as soon as one is over.”
Hopke thanked the Linn Fire Protection District, which flagged traffic on Rt. U, Osage Ambulance District crewmembers, who were on-site in case of need, and the Linn Police Department, which patrolled the race route.
Here are the results of the race.
18U: Lily Baker (44:41)
19-30: Joanna Yutzy and Anita Yutzy (38:50)
31-49: Kelli Kuschel (24:11)
50 and over: Brenda Morris (30:20)
18U: Luke Daughtery (1:03.07)
19-30: Luke Brusher (24:10)
31-49: Christopher Pike (30:31)
50 and over: John Reinkemeyer (24:42)
Sponsoring the event were American Family Insurance-Hollie Dean, American Realty & Dev., LLC, Annie's Station, Bart Carney, DDS, PC, Big Fish Haircuts, BJ's Restaurant, Brandt Heating & Cooling, Casper's 66, Classic Buildings, Community Christian Church, Curt Kliethermes Construction, Diane & Dennis Hopke, DJ's Repair Service LLC, Edward Jones, Elliott Chiropractic, Family Care Clinic (JCMG), Fennewald Auto Center, Foster Mini-Storage, Gloria and Ed Scherf, Hales Hook & Hunt, Jeri Ann Rackers, L & M Rentals/Deeken Farms, Legends Bank, Linn Fire Protection District, Linn Lions Club, Mark Meyer & Mary Kever, MFA, Mid America Bank, Mid State Land Surveying LLC, Morton Chapel, Muenks Insurance, Osage County Concrete, Osage Industries Inc., Owen's Towing, Schnitzler Tax Service, Shelter Insurance-Jeff Wolfe, Symbols of Success, Thriftway Supermarket, Tigers Tastee Treat LLC, Vicki Nelson, and Willadeen Vandegriff.
“We are deeply grateful for their support, financially, or in goods for the event,” said Hopke.