Washington, D. C. – Photography courtesy of Jeremy Rusnock
Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) had their First Annual Gala in Washington, D.C. on November 1st, 2014. The event was held at the beautiful JW Marriott in downtown Washington, D.C. and title-sponsored by the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. Additional sponsors included Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Foundation, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Marriott International, American Hotel & Lodging Association, U.S. Travel Association, and The Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Two hundred and sixty-seven guests attended the semi-formal dinner and program.
Speakers during the program included Tim Ballard (Founder & CEO of O.U.R.) and Elizabeth Smart (The Elizabeth Smart Foundation) who are in the process of merging their organizations to combine efforts in the fight against human trafficking. The overall message from the program was that human trafficking is modern-day slavery and is the fastest growing crime in the world with over 2 million victims being children. O.U.R. Jump Teams, made up of former CIA, Navy Seals, and special agents, work with local governments to create undercover operations to rescue trafficked children.
Film crews have documented O.U.R. missions for a documentary entitled, The Abolitionists, produced by Gerald Molen (Schindler’s List), to be released in 2015. Gerald Molen was not able to attend the gala for health reasons, but director Chet Thomas introduced the film and showed the trailer.
Special guests on the program included Emmy award-winning composer Kurt Bestor, Grammy-nominated artist Jenny Oaks Bakers, Broadway performer Sandra Turley, and musically-accomplished Elizabeth Smart, all performing “Prayer of the Children” together. Guesno Mardy, a Haitian father whose child was kidnapped and trafficked in 2010, also spoke about the ongoing search for his son.
A live auction gave attendees a chance to participate in fundraising for future Operation Underground Railroad missions. Due to generous sponsors who donated over $100,000 before the event, the $150,000 raised through the live auction will all go to rescuing children.
Leaders in the hotel industry attended and extended their financial support due to the connection between the hotel industry and the prevention of these crimes. Tim Ballard announced “The Liberator Award,” an award specific to an individual within the hotel industry given by O.U.R. in recognition for an outstanding contribution in the fight against human trafficking. Nominations will be accepted on the O.U.R. website from January to September, 2015, and the award will be presented at second Annual Gala in October, 2015.
Los Angeles – Photography Courtesy of Johnny Beutler Photography
Over 350 people attended the fundraising gala in Los Angeles, California, October 17th at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Some of the celebrities in attendance included Pat Boone, Debbie Boon, Brook White, Mike Love (The Beach Boys), Michael Lloyd, Rosey Grier, Marilyn McCoo, and Billy Davis, Jr.
O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard spoke about some of the Jump Teams’ most recent successes while rescued kidnapped victim Elizabeth Smart talked about what it feels like to be rescued, concluding: “Every child sex slave deserves a happily ever after.”
Edited by Cheryl L. Karr