On Saturday, October 3rd, Operation Underground Railroad hosted a Gala Fundraiser at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott to raise funds to rescue children from human trafficking.
The event began with a presentation by actress and activist Marisol Nichols, Founder and Executive Director of the Foundation for a Slavery Free World. She spoke about the importance of giving, protecting, and the need for an aggressive attitude in freeing the world form the sickness of slavery.
Norma Bastidas, a 46-year-old single mother of two, and a survivor of both sexual violence and human trafficking, spoke next, recounting experiences from her past and inspiring the audience to end violence and trafficking.
O.U.R. shared an update on rescue operations conducted to date in 2015 and presented the hotel award. Last year O.U.R. introduced The Liberator Award at the gala. This award is given to an individual who has displayed the courage and determination to make a significant impact in the effort to fight human trafficking. Someone who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking, or who has made great strides to affect positive change regarding this horrible crime within the Hotel Industry.
AWARD RECIPIENT JOHN WARD
On September 9, 2013, John Ward, Director of Security for the Boston Cambridge Marriott Hotel, was notified that an adult male had just checked into the hotel, paying by cash, and was accompanied by two young females who appeared nervous and anxious. Director of Security Ward, thinking that this could be a case of minor exploitation and human trafficking, notified his contacts at the Cambridge Police Department. Over the next several hours a joint investigation took place between the Cambridge PD, DHS and the Boston Police. The investigation ended later that evening in the arrest of two individuals from Detroit who were charged with two counts of trafficking of minors for sexual servitude, and five counts of rape.
In May of 2014, during the Cambridge Police Department’s annual Awards and Recognition Ceremony, John Ward was honored with the Allen T. McPherson Citizen of the Year Award for his outstanding performance dedication to duty in notifying and working with the Cambridge Police, Boston Police and DHS to apprehend and later convict two known criminals on charges of minor sex trafficking. Today, John holds the position of Director of Security for Marriott International.
Hector Mantrap, Marriott’s VP of safety and security, nominated John and shared his story of courage and his dedication to duty with O.U.R. His hard work and dedication not only saved two minors and ended in the arrest and conviction of two known criminals, but it will now help bring awareness in the hotel industry that a watchful, dedicated hotel employee can affect change in the dark world of child and adult trafficking. Alan Orlob, VP of global Safety and Security from Marriott accepted the award on behalf of John Ward at the Gala.
AUCTION AND ENTERTAINMENT
Following the Hotel Award came the highly anticipated live auction that included a Park City Escape, Maui Condo Week Stay, A Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) VIP package for four, and a Portugal Resort seven night stay.
The evening was also graced by several accomplished musicians. Pianist Kendra Lowe, who has recorded dozens of movie soundtracks and trailers (including Toy Story 3), has played on a number of TV shows, and has recorded the music for several video games including Lord of the Rings, performed. Lindsey Stirling, a classically trained violinist from Gilbert, Arizona, who has over seven million YouTube subscribers, Billboard chart-topping hits, and has performed for sold-out tours worldwide, also performed. Lexi Walker, whose rendition of “Let It Go” from the hit movie Frozen garnered over 70 million views and landed her a spot in the finale of the Disney Christmas Day Parade, rounded out the evening’s musical line-up.
O.U.R.’s founder, Timothy Ballard, was the Keynote speaker of the evening. He described his decade-long work as a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security, where he was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Today, he serves as O.U.R.’s Jump Team Commander for rescue operations. He gave an inspiring presentation, underscoring the need to donate to save lives.
The event inspired many to donate, as community leaders paid up to $7500 each for a table centerpiece and bid generously on auction items. The event, sponsored by several corporations including Marriott, raised over $250,000 (before taking into account foundation sponsors). One hundred percent of the money raised at the Gala goes directly to O.U.R. to fulfill our mission to rescue children from slavery.
Operation Underground Railroad has been working since December 2013 to bring child slavery to an end. They have enlisted highly qualified individuals such as Navy Seals, former CIA, and Special Ops operative to plan, coordinate, identify, and execute extraction missions. O.U.R. has one goal–to free children of the world from slavery.
To learn more about Operation Underground Railroad or to get involved, visit ourresue.org.