‘Powerful message’

‘Powerful message’

Human trafficking highlighted in exhibit at Phillips Gallery

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander June 24, 2015 issue

Numerous paintings created by area youths, and some adults, will cover the walls of Phillips Gallery through the end of July. The canvas paintings all share a similar, powerful message about human trafficking and its effects.

The gallery, at BIG ARTS Center, 900 Dunlop Road, is open from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Wednesday, July 22, at 3:30 p.m. Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership, Inc. will hold a special reception featuring a short program and light refreshments at the gallery.

HTAP Executive Director Nola Theiss said the July event will display the students paintings from Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church, Our Mothers Home, Pine Manor Association, Lehigh Acres and Bonita Springs Boys and Girls Club in the center of the gallery .

“We will also invite the other organizations which have hosted ARTREACH programs over the last five years,” she said of The Heights Center and other Boys & Girls Clubs. “We are also interested in having community members. We especially invite Zonta, Rotary, St. Michael’s and the Congregational Church members who have supported ARTREACH.”

"People don't know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens 'beneath the surface.' This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that's human trafficking." Our Mother's Home 2014

“People don’t know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens ‘beneath the surface.’ This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that’s human trafficking.”
Our Mother’s Home 2014

One of the many paintings that will be featured during the Wednesday, July 22, event was created in 2014 by youth of Our Mother’s Home titled “Beneath the Surface.” The brightly colored octopus’ tentacles have a firm grasp around a different fish that all have human faces. “People don’t know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens beneath the surface,” the description reads. “This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that’s human trafficking.”

The ARTREACH program has expanded, Theiss said as a result of the biggest human trafficking case taking place in Florida in March when 17 traffickers were arrested. She said a good number of the victims were from Lee and Collier counties.

The case broke, Theiss said, when women victims of the violent crime sought help for custody of their child. She said when the stories of the victims were found to be similar, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement became involved.

“Six victims have been identified and they are all in recovery and have jobs,” Theiss said.

Thirty-percent of children are trafficked by family members, she said, and 11 percent are sought out by strangers who offer the child something they feel they do not have or give them compliments.

The ARTREACH program began in February 2010 as an effort to help spread what kind of dangers are associated with human trafficking, as well as raise awareness of the crime. The program is offered for youngsters 8 and older over a five-day session where they spend time creating a canvas collaboratively depicting what they learned about human trafficking.

“We are telling the kids they can have an impact because they are big,” Theiss said of the canvas paintings. “They are creating actual art.”

Three or four children work together on the same canvas, which many times include a border representing a message that is told within the main masterpiece.

Theiss pointed to a painting at the gallery with feet outlining the canvas sharing the message that human trafficking has a never- ending cycle of running away and the hand within the painting represents never being able to get away.

ARTREACH began with three programs the first year and grew to 10 programs last year. The program, she said, has touched the lives of immigrant and first generation children; foster; African American; Haitian; Latino and domestic kids.

“All those groups need special attention,” Theiss said.

She said they feel it is important to also protect domestic kids who are U.S. citizens because they are also placed in situations where human trafficking can take place. Theiss said the scenario can stem from a simple conversation that is led with the question, “are you here by yourself.” The question, Theiss said most times leads to further information shared and an invitation to meet for the second time.

Each of the at-risk youngsters participating in ARTREACH receive a kit of basic supplies that they can take home. They also walk away with a large post card that has pictures of them working on the canvas, a reproduced image of the final canvas painting and an interpretation of what the painting means.

The facility that hosts the program, also receives a banner with the image the kids created.

Theiss said they recently received a grant from the Bob Rauschenberg Foundation, which awarded HTAP with the opportunity to hire an art instructor and a curriculum director. With an art instructor, she said they can now teach the kids some simple tools to become better painters.

HTAP began on Sanibel because Theiss wanted to build awareness on the topic of human trafficking while getting the community and kids involved in spreading the message.

For more information about HTAP, visit www.humantraffickingawareness.org.

Snow falling

This afternoon as I opened our door the cold breeze kissed my face and sent a chill to my toes. My purse was slung over my shoulder, my mini computer tucked under my arm and keys in hand ready to lock the door. As soon as I turned around and looked at our trees, which are now almost empty of leaves, I saw little white speckles float through the air cascading to the ground. I instantly got my phone out so I could take pictures, which didn’t seem to be enough, so I started recording this beautiful site. It was snowing!

Well my fingers started to become frozen, so I walked to the car a few steps away in a rather rushed motion, so I could get out of the cold. I opened the car door, set all my stuff on the passenger side and looked at my black jacket, and my dark hair, both full of little snow balls. I couldn’t help it a smile crept across my face.

I turned on the car and my dashboard starting flashing telling me the roads may be icy, again a little smile spread across my face. Well, like they say there is no better time than the present, so I put the car in reverse and went on my way to Greeneville to do my in-person interview with an artist.

You see, although I lived in Illinois once upon a time, we moved to Florida when I was only 8-years-old, many years before getting my driver’s license, many years before the thought of driving crossed my mind.

So, as I drove down our driveway I was thinking, “oh my gosh I am driving for the first time in snow!” I have to admit I was a little nervous about it, but as soon as I turned down the road that took me to the interstate the nerves started slowly going away. I actually became emotional. The emotions started deep down and slowly made its way up to my throat where I fought back a few tears. You ask why? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because this is Jason and my first winter together in a state that actually has a winter, maybe because I was driving in snow for the first time, who knows.

It snowed the entire ride to Greeneville (40+ miles) and the farther I drove from home the larger the flakes became. It was an experience like no other.

I’m used to driving in the rain. After living in Florida for most of my life, it became second nature to flip on your lights, turn on the wipers and drive until you reach your destination.

It was crazy driving, and having these, what looked like little cotton balls, hitting my windshield. It was incredible really. I felt like a little girl seeing snow for the first time. It was almost like there was a little wind tunnel right in front of my windshield grabbing a hold of all these little white circles that hit the windshield before flying off the side or onto the roof.

As soon as I arrived at Lawrence’s house, I apologized for being a little late. Yep, I was a little cautious driving in these new conditions, so my lead foot drove the speed limit and at times a little below.

We instantly hit it off . . . he lived in Fort Lauderdale for 30 years after growing up in Chicago as a child. I love interviewing artist, especially this gentleman because of his love for animals. His paintings were incredible, each set of animal’s eyes drew you into the painting.

I have to be honest when the interview was over and I said my goodbyes, I was a little disappointed that the snow stopped.  But with that said, I made it home a lot faster.

I remember driving the entire way home excited to tell Jason about my new adventure. His excitement matched mine . . . he said he stuck his head out of the door at work a couple of times to look at the snow, which in Johnson City he said were a good size.

So now that I drove in my first snow, the next battle to tackle, the ice!

It’s in the high 20’s right now and I plan on getting up early to exercise before my hectic day begins with writing. I wonder what kind of weather conditions I will face then.