My name is Vanessa Dunn (that’s me holding the sign) and I am a Senior at Sierra Nevada College in Incline currently studying International Studies and Humanities. For my service-learning project, I chose to work within Awaken, after learning of the disturbing trend of commercial sexual exploitation cases in the Reno and Lake Tahoe area. Interning for Awaken has widened my perspective on the topic of gender inequality throughout our world and, has fueled me to continue to further my education on combating commercial sexual exploitation while advocating for survivors.
As I walk up the gray carpeted stairs to the Awaken drop-in center, I am overwhelmed by the loving climate created by staff. The living room holds a comfy oversized couch, used often to unite one another over shared stories from the week, or to give rest to weary clients. The kitchen holds an overstocked refrigerator filled with tasty favorites, providing sustenance to clients. The door to the fridge is covered with photos of Awaken clients enjoying weekly activities within their community. The bathroom holds a hot shower where clients can bathe, find feminine hygiene products, and fresh undergarments. The walls hold colorful, vibrant paintings of flowers, inspirational quotes and themed decorations for the month. And at the center of it all, a burning candle symbolic of the survivors who are not yet home.
The clients at Awaken are fierce, brave, ambitious, and most importantly, they are survivors. I have witnessed the beaming smiles of clients as they share their accomplishments and their tears and anger as they reflect on their past. I’m humbled by their immense courage as they face obstacles ahead. I have heard the heart wrenching stories of abuse, rape, fear, and slander and witnessed the agony it has caused within them.
The clients at Awaken refuse to be broken and are proving to themselves and others that they are not defined by their past upsets. At Awaken, clients create new and meaningful relationships with others, and often work to clear their records of charges that prevent them from securing a reliable job. In workshops, they practice interview skills and create resumes to prepare for future employment. I have observed their transformations as they strive to become their highest and most authentic selves. Awaken provides a sanctuary for this to happen.
The staff at Awaken consists of twelve women who dedicate their lives to empower victims of sex trafficking. Founded by Melissa Holland and Jen Robinson in 2011, Awaken is a community that truly understands how love can foster healing. The non-profit promotes awareness through education and helps to embolden clients by providing resources and support. Awaken has spearheaded a student-friendly curriculum to help educate youth on the topic of commercial sexual exploitation and the warning signs. I am deeply moved by the efforts of Awaken staff and volunteers as they fight to end sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in our community. I find reassurance in the fact that these women are the leading warriors of this fight, the fight for freedom.
The work of Awaken would not be possible without the support of our community. They need our help in fighting this human rights violation and empowering survivors. If you are interested in learning more about this organization or volunteering for Awaken, you can contact volunteer coordinator, Stephanie Sherman at [email protected]org. I look forward to sharing my next blog post that will highlight Awaken’s monthly celebration nights!