All posts by Joey Beck

Human Trafficking in Southwest & Central Virginia 

Learn the signs & what one local group is doing to help save lives.

Written by Hayleigh Worgan

The Blue Campaign, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ‘unified voice’ to combat human trafficking, defines the crime as “modern-day slavery [that] involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Contrary to the myth, human trafficking does not require children to be smuggled across a border or kidnapped while visiting another country. Instead, this is a crime happening while children are still in school. Perpetrators can include people that parents know and trust in their community. Sometimes, they even include family members. The crime can happen unbeknownst to parents while a child remains under their roof. As a community, we have a responsibility to report signs of trafficking when we see them. With human trafficking on the rise, it’s important to know the signs and indicators that can help identify traffickers, and lead to the rescue of their victims. Here are a few from the Blue Campaign:

First, be aware of changes to a child’s physical state. Increased anxiety, symptoms of depression, nervousness, and submissive behavior can be signs that something is wrong. Victims may also defer to another person to speak for them in certain situations. Traffickers look for victims who are vulnerable, and often create the illusion that they are the only ones on whom their victim can depend. Despite the abuse, a victim will often feel loyalty to their trafficker. They begin to shut out friends and family and opportunities for socialization outside of their time with a trafficker often cease to exist.

Additionally, if you spot a child that could be in a dangerous situation, it is important to notice if they have been harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care, or other life necessities. These indicators alone may not necessarily mean that someone is a victim of human trafficking. However, they are important warning signs to observe, document, and report if necessary. If you believe you have identified a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888. In fact, take a moment right now to save that number in your contacts. You never know when you may have the opportunity to save a life. 

You may be asking, “What happens next? Once you report a potential case, how do victims receive the help they need to regain their independence?”

The answer is complicated. Human trafficking is a much bigger problem locally than many may realize. As more perpetrators are exposed every year, the need for resources for victims increases. Law enforcement are being trained to understand that those being trafficked are victims, not perpetrators. However, there are some services that law enforcement cannot provide to victims as this can be misconstrued as coercion to testify against their trafficker. Locally, organizations like Street Ransom play a huge part in helping victims take back their lives.

Street Ransom is a ministry of Straight Street, an inner-city outreach that has been around since 1994. Straight Street works on a variety of programming such as mentoring and operating a drop-in center for youth who are at risk. They provide a safe place to go have fun that includes programs specific for different demographics, teen parents, and Christmas programs for children with incarcerated parents. Over the years, they have developed a relationship with law enforcement. In 2013, local law enforcement rescued a victim of sex trafficking in Roanoke. By that time, known cases of human trafficking had escalated significantly, and they began to realize there were few options for victims, specifically those under the age of 18. 

Law enforcement reached out to Straight Street and asked if they would be willing to form a program or shelter for young girls being trafficked in our area, and, as a result, Street Ransom began in 2014. 

Their mission is, first, to educate the community through awareness and prevention education.“We talk to law enforcement and different professionals who may come in contact with victims. Beyond that, we do presentations in the community to the general public that include answers to questions like, ‘Who are these victims?’ ‘How did people get involved in this?’ ‘What is Street Ransom doing, and what can I do to help?’ We explain warning signs and what to do if someone believes they have identified a victim of sex trafficking,” says Rebekah Broughton, Street Ransom’s Communication Coordinator.

Next, Street Ransom wants to meet victims and survivors where they are and provide for their basic needs. They can do things like donate clothing gift cards, provide legal aid, and support survivors through court proceedings. They also offer access to services like counseling and therapy. Their connections with professionals in the community allow Street Ransom to help survivors get whatever counseling they need specific to the trauma they have experienced. 

Finally, Street Ransom is developing a crisis shelter for juveniles who have been trafficked in Virginia. Right now, victims of trafficking under the age of 18 do not have shelter care services specifically designed to meet their needs.

“The crisis shelter is the first place girls will come once they are recovered, unless they are highly addicted to drugs and need to detox first. The survivors we serve can stay in our shelter for up to 90 days, and during that time, we will assess what the next step is for reuniting them with their families or placing them in foster care homes,” explains Broughton. Each foster care home, of course, would need to be a trained therapeutic foster family. An alternative option would be to transfer survivors to a long-term care facility. 

Broughton emphasizes that victims do not always fit the stereotypical mold we see in movies or on television. Sometimes, it is as simple as a teenager with a significantly older boyfriend. 

“[A trafficker] will see an opportunity to get in their lives and gain trust. He will isolate the girl from people who care about her and exploit that need. She doesn’t realize she’s being trafficked and manipulated. She’s roped into this life, isolated, and he will exploit her over and over again,” she explains.

“He will make her stay, by either physical violence or threatening her in some way so she will comply with him. At that point, she’s stuck in that cycle, and it’s hard for her to get out,” she adds.  “We are pushing to dispel the myth that these girls are prostitutes, or that they chose this life for themselves. The fact is that there is no such thing as a child prostitute. You are automatically considered a victim if you are under the age of 18.”

Street Ransom offers many resources to help educate parents, teachers, and community leaders how to recognize victims and prevent sex trafficking of children within our community. Learn more about Street Ransom by visiting 

www.streetransom.com. For more information on the Blue Campaign, visit www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign.

Hayleigh Worgan is an independent author, freelance writer, minimalist, and nomad. She enjoys adventuring with her husband and two dogs. Find out how you can support her work at  www.hayleighworgan.com.

Save Smarter

Four Reasons to Buddy Up with a Credit Card

Combined with responsible spending, these tips could help improve your financial wellness.
Presented by Member One Federal Credit Union

High-interest rates, nasty fees, or the inability to pay back debt—all can leave you feeling glum when it comes to credit cards. Cheer up! Credit cards don’t have to be your worst financial enemy. If you educate yourself, you’ll discover how befriending your credit card, while spending responsibly, could actually benefit your overall financial health. 

Build and/or improve your credit. Are you planning to get a loan for a car or a home? That loan will depend on your credit score. By using a credit card and making monthly payments (or better yet, paying off the entire balance each month), you’re helping to establish good credit. You’ll also want to consider your credit utilization ratio—the amount you owe compared to your credit limit. Keeping this ratio low, usually below 10 percent, will make you more appealing to lenders.

Maximize the value of your dollar. If you use your credit card wisely, rewards can be a good way to maximize the value of every dollar you spend by earning cash back, points, or miles that you can later redeem. Why not benefit from purchases you’re already making? Just be cautious—don’t charge more to your credit card just to earn a certain reward, such as an airfare ticket or hotel stay. This could lead to significant debt if it gets out of control. One way to keep track of spending is to use your credit card for specific things like groceries and gas.

Keep your budget in check. Credit cards can be a great way to consolidate your debt. You can save yourself some money over time by rolling all of your debt onto a single credit card; however, make sure the card you’re putting debt onto has a lower interest rate than your other cards. This could make your life simpler by paying one bill each month instead of several, and the lower interest rate could help you save money.

Protect your money. With credit and debit card fraud on the rise, using a credit card as opposed to a debit card could help protect you and your funds. Debit cards are linked to your checking account, so fraudsters could drain your account quickly if your card is compromised. With credit cards, you have the advantage of fraud protection. Review your credit card provider’s fraud protection policy to learn more. Another great feature of credit cards is purchase alerts that notify you when your card is used. 

Credit cards don’t have to be a foe. With a little willpower and a bit of know-how, they can help you achieve financial ease and security. 

Join Member One here each month for more money-saving tips and financial advice! Be sure to visit their website, www.memberonefcu.com, for more info on their products and services. Member One Federal Credit Union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

Virginia Made: Sew Brave Designs

Meet May Gonzalez

Written by Faith Jones of Hill City Handmade

“April showers bring May flowers.” How often have we heard this old adage quoted? Every April, as we experience rainy days more often than not, we try to look on the bright side. We think about the reward and beauty the gloomy days will bring. That philosophy can be applied to May Gonzalez and the inspiring purpose that was birthed from her storm. 

Born in the Bronx and experiencing foster care in Texas, May eventually found her way to Richmond, VA. She jokes, “Oh boy, I have a Lifetime story, I’ve seen a lot in my 31 years.” In April 2012, May and her husband lost their first child to Trisomy 13, a genetic disorder which is considered incompatible with life. After receiving the news at 19 weeks, they made the difficult decision to go through with the pregnancy. Caleb was born “sleeping” at 32 weeks. Amidst the devastation and loss, May turned to sewing to deal with the grief. What began as hand sewing personalized pillows and baby moccasins soon manifested into much more.  

With her passion ignited, May began to focus on what she really loved, bags. Armed with a sewing machine (gifted from her mother-in-law), a few lessons from her husband’s aunt and plenty of YouTube videos, Sew Brave Designs was born. The name for the business came to her in a dream. “It was pretty clear from God. I wanted to combine my experience in life with my passion. I love sewing and I wanted to remind people that they too can be brave no matter what they face.”  

The handmade bags feature bold flowered fabrics combined with leather and are not only beautiful but make a difference. A portion of the proceeds for each one is donated to Noah’s Children in Richmond. The Bon Secours organization provides for the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients and their families. Each donation is made in memory of Caleb and he lives on each time May sees someone carrying one of her creations. 

Though faced with the showers of life, May Gonzalez has found her flowers. She and her husband have since been blessed with two fun-loving boys, ages five and seven months. Life is not always easy but they face it together. Assuming there isn’t a Golden Girls marathon on, you might find May enjoying a date night involving tacos and movies or just hanging out and laughing with the family. Wherever she is, whatever she’s doing, you can be sure that May is counting her blessings and enjoying the flowers after the storm. 

www.sewbravedesigns.etsy.com

Faith Jones is a local entrepreneur, creative, and believer.  Her businesses include Faith Inspired and The Hill City Handmade. Faith has a degree in Art and Photography and is a former high school art and culinary teacher. She enjoys spending time with her family and travelling. Faith’s motto is, “Paris is always a good idea.” www.thehillcityhandmade.com

Young Female Writers Club

The Lyrical Side of Writing

Written by K.L. Kranes

The first time I read the name “Odessa Hott” I think it sounds like the name of a feisty, no nonsense protagonist in a YA detective novel. When I tell the real Odessa Hott this she laughs. You can tell a lot about a person by a laugh. Odessa’s is quick and soft, but sonorous. It’s my first clue Odessa’s much more than a 16-year-old girl from Mechanicsville, VA.

As Odessa and I continue to talk, I quickly realize I’m right. Odessa plays the Taiko (Japanese drums) and reels off opinions on Emily Dickinson with ease. When she discusses the writing process, effortlessly weaving metaphors and similes, I have to remind myself I’m not interviewing a seasoned English professor, but a young teenage girl. 

“Writing is a gateway into a multitude of new and used ideas. It’s similar to an enormous thrift shop!” Odessa explains, her enthusiasm palpable. Although Odessa and I speak over the phone or communicate via email, it feels as if there is a bright smile of excitement hiding behind her every word. “There are so many unexplored concepts. Even the ideas that have been used over and over can always be twisted into something never before seen. I don’t believe that any idea has been completely wrung dry. There is always a way to reinvent what has already been invented.”

Odessa has been inventing and reinventing stories since she was just 6-years-old when she began writing blogs on WordPress. Soon after, she discovered Storybird, a website where young authors can self-publish online using assorted work from global illustrators. In her teenage years, Odessa moved to new platforms, but continued writing, publishing over 30 works on the writing and fanfiction sites Quotev and Wattpad where she accumulated thousands of readers. 

“To this day, I get daily notifications of people leaving comments on my old stories, although I have since taken a break from online publishing,” Odessa says. 

As part of her creative growth, Odessa also participated in writing workshops with the Richmond Young Writers (RYW), based out of Chop Suey Books. Through the RYW, Odessa published her first picture book called Melting Tears, collaborating with local artist Sarah Hand. The story, along with stories from fellow RYW writers, is available on the RYW website. 

“Seeing not only my own book but everyone else’s in print was surreal,” Odessa says when discussing the project. 

Melting Tears is a fairytale about an imaginative rice paper girl and a morose king. Odessa explained her love for Japanese language and culture, which she has been studying for 4 years, inspired the story. 

The international influence of Melting Tears highlights the breadth of Odessa’s background. From K-Pop to Sherlock Holmes, it’s clear Odessa’s unique interests have continually influenced her life and creative process. If she were a song, Odessa would have a passionate drumbeat, a complex guitar riff and a dreamy harmony melding seamlessly with the melody of youthful optimism. I think Odessa would like this metaphor given writing isn’t her only passion. 

“For a long time, I thought writing was my calling,” Odessa says. However, as she got older, Odessa felt herself increasingly drawn to music. 

Although music had always been a large part of her life, Odessa’s father and mother are both musicians, it wasn’t until recently Odessa realized music is her true dream. And, if Odessa believes in anything, it’s the importance of following your dreams.

“I am a firm believer that you should chase your dreams for your own sense of fulfillment. Otherwise, it will leave you feeling exhausted trying to be what someone else wants you to be,” Odessa explains.

That doesn’t mean Odessa plans to abandon the writing side of her creative spirit. Even when speaking about her favorite artists, Odessa describes them with a literary undercurrent. 

“In 2017, my mother introduced me to Solange,” she says. “And ever since, I have been enthralled by her aesthetics, genre and voice. Her lyrics convey a powerful, poetic message.”

Odessa admits combining her two passions can be difficult. “My lyrics are mediocre,” she admits humbly when speaking about her attempts at songwriting. “I write poetry, but usually my lyrics sounds nothing like my poetry. I try to write a song but the lyrics don’t capture the real emotion I’m trying to find.” 

Even if Odessa hasn’t yet figured out how to merge her talent for writing with her talent for music, she certainly already understands how writing can influence music as much as music can influence writers.

“I think that having an understanding of different forms of writing can give you a powerful insight into lyrics you hear that you may have never considered before,” Odessa opines. 

It’s likely one day soon Odessa will turn that powerful insight into a beautiful music. I, for one, can’t wait to hear the combination of Odessa’s musical voice with her distinctive literary voice.

K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog.

Bella Finds

Craft the Rainbow

Brittany Watson Jepson brings fun paper crafts to your home through Craft the Rainbow: 40 Colorful Paper Products. Each of these 40 crafts, split amongst nine color-specific sections, have step-by-step directions and images. Starting with pink and ending with rainbow, each section opens with a quote and some fun facts about the new color. These color-filled pages won’t just tell you how to make each craft, but will also tell you what materials you need, a description of the design and where her inspiration came from. While Jepson does give the time frame for these crafts, they’re mainly based around shows or music. So, if you like The Great British Bake Off, in a just a couple episodes you can complete the White Paper Sculpture on page 101. Or, if you like Michael Jackson, within just one album you can complete the Crepe Paper Streamer on page 125. Do you prefer Gilmore Girls? Then, during your favorite episode, why not make the Rainbow Necklace found on page 129? Or make the Rainbow Paper Plants on page 144 while you watch the VHS of Anne of Green Gables. Whatever craft you choose, and whatever method of background noise you choose, you can find the templates for these designs in the back of the book. Just trace what you want, pick a color, and get started.   

Written by Samantha Fantozzi

 

Just Creative People

Find your creative inspiration at Studio Six!

Written by Hayleigh Worgan

Grace Brian (left) and Maggie Perrin-Key (right) met in November 2017. They connected immediately, and decided to open an art space together, Studio Six, located in The Aurora Studio Center in Downtown Roanoke. Their serendipitous meeting led them to realize that they had the same vision for an art space that welcomed creative people within the community through workshops and portfolio consultations. The artists complement one other, creating a fulfilling and nourishing space where their talents flourish.  

(Grace and Maggie photo by www.paigelucasphotography.com )

Both Grace and Maggie began developing their crafts at a young age. Grace received a sewing machine at age 10, and Maggie started oil painting during a summer camp in fourth grade. In her early years, Grace never considered fashion design as a career option. While planning for college, she didn’t think of it as something she wanted to pursue. After attending Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCU) for a while, she went back to sewing and found that the stigma she had originally attached to fashion design kept her from seeing the bigger picture. More importantly, sewing made her happy. She decided to transfer to the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University, where she became interested in sustainability within the textile industry. 

As a young adult, Maggie continued her pursuit of the arts. First at VCU, and then at Hollins University. At Hollins, she studied printmaking, bookbinding, and papermaking. She also began exploring fiber art and textiles. 

“Coming from somewhere that was so arts-centered, I didn’t realize how important it was to have so much support for studying the arts. Originally, Maggie and I wanted to make a place where anybody, specifically young adults who are looking to pursue a career in the arts, can come and get that support. Guidance is important because a lot of people get to the art school application and they need a portfolio and they haven’t been working on one, don’t know what to do, or don’t know how to photograph their art,” explains Grace.

That initial idea morphed into something bigger, however, when the two decided to offer workshops within their space. The workshops have taken off, and with their success, Grace and Maggie have expanded their vision.

“I wanted an art space that was not as daunting and was more on community level where young people felt like they could come and hang out with us or make something,” says Maggie.

“There is a human desire to create things. It’s rewarding and confidence-boosting when you see something that you made. We want to be that outlet that gives people that opportunity. To be able to make something and create something gives you power and knowledge. In addition to knowing you can now do this, you will also know what goes into a painting the next time you see it. Consumer education is so important to me, so I think that when we are talking about the arts, this is consumer education in a way,” Grace adds.

Grace and Maggie offer portfolio consultation and open studio opportunities throughout the year. They also host popular workshops including Zodiac Embroidery, DIY Pom Pom Wall Hangings, Live Model Figure Drawing and so much more. Visit their Facebook page (@studiosixroanoke), Instagram (@studiosixroanoke), or visit their website at www.studiosixroanoke.com for more information on upcoming workshops and events!

Celebrating Bike Month

Okay, Virginia, it’s time to dust off your bike and explore our region!

Written by Kristine McCormick

For decades learning to ride a bicycle was the quintessential experience for American kids. Just part of being a kid in cities, suburbs & rural America alike. Long summer days filled with the freedom to ride away from your house, and your parents, maybe siblings too. Do you remember your first bicycle? Mine was a sparkly purple number with a banana seat and handle bar streamers.

The majority of Americans stop riding a bicycle sometime in their childhood. For most, it is during the teenage years when the hallowed right of passage known as “Driving” occurs. Bicycles get left in the garage or basement to collect dust as teenagers gallivant around town in cars. As adults we favor cars because we perceive ourselves as simply too busy. We absolutely must get from one thing to the next and then the next with lightening speed.

The benefits of riding a bicycle are enormous; it produces quantifiable heath benefits, it is a good non-impact way to build cardiovascular health while still being easy on joints and has a wonderful calming, almost meditative effect on the brain. A person who rides a bicycle is also simply more engaged with the community as they ride around town. Traveling at a slower pace gives one time to notice what is going on in the neighborhood. Bicyclists have the opportunity to look at their surroundings as they pass instead of zipping by in a car with all attention focused on the road ahead.

My bicycle got left behind at my parent’s house when I moved to D.C. and it was 18 years before I was on two wheels again. I can’t recall how I first decided to start riding a bicycle after all that time, I’m just very happy I did. Cycling in general makes me happy. I look forward to it. Cycling has a way of making my whole day easier, I’ve lost weight and I find myself to be a more patient person. I owe these changes to riding a bicycle.

In celebration of Bike Month you are invited to dust off that bicycle hiding in your garage or basement and start exploring your neighborhood via our Greenways. It may feel a little awkward at first but the old adage is true, you never forget how to ride a bicycle. You can find info about Roanoke’s Bikeshare program at: https://ridesolutions.org/bikeshareand info about our wonderful network of Greenways here: http://greenways.org/?page_id=21

Kristine McCormick is a Marketing Consultant and busy mom to three girls who after living in eight different cities has adopted Roanoke as her “hometown” because she loves riding bikes in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. 

Earth Girl Wellness – What’s a GMO?

What’s a GMO?

Written by Tina Hatcher, Earth Girl Wellness

Food manufacturers praise their products as Non-GMO. A television commercial portrays Triscuits as “Nongenemodiscuit.” So what’s with the Non-GMO trend? Is it worth our interest since most food marketing departments have long tried to lure us in with fancy wording to entice us to buy their product? Especially since many of these marketing ploys are only vain attempts to make a product inaccurately sound healthier? Earth Girl thinks the Non-GMO marketing trend is worth the added effort.

GMOs are “Genetically Modified Organisms.” Essentially natural food items (fruits and vegetables) have their genetic material altered to create a newer, “healthier” version of the food. Take corn for example. One species of corn has a piece of its genetic material taken and inserted into another species of corn to make it more resistant to drought, torrential rain, bugs, or undernourished soil. The new version of corn is then easier to grow in harsh conditions, creating higher crop production and lowering cost. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Cross-breeding of crops has been done for centuries to create similar results. So what’s so bad about that? Cross-breeding is a naturally occurring event. A farmer can put two similar breeds of corn together to make a new breed. Genetically modifying the corn is a scientific process occurring in a laboratory; two unrelated species are forced to combine. Think of it like this: You can create a new breed of dog by allowing natural puppy love to occur or you can create a “Frankenpup” by taking an eye from one and a leg from another.

As a point of debate, most of these new species are created to help bolster food supplies in challenging environments. Unfortunately, food executives have also used the technology to make a maximum amount of profit from their products. Most of the products containing GMO ingredients are of such poor quality, we shouldn’t eat them. But let’s push the point a little bit. What other ramifications can come from GMO products? Not a single GMO product can be labeled as organic and can’t really attest to the health of the nutrition or the potential harshness of the product to the land. There is not a single long term study which can validate the safety of these products. GMOs may not have dramatic effects on the current generation but can side effects show up in our children or our children’s children? Additionally, GMOs can ultimately eradicate normally occurring species of many fruits or vegetables. Cross pollination can occur across GMO farm and organic farms that are literally miles apart.

So how can you know if your food is safely free from GMOs? The most commonly genetically modified crops today are corn and soy. These are found in virtually every packaged product on the supermarket shelf! Earth Girl highly recommends putting any GMO product back on the shelf. Look for the Non-GMO Verified Green Seal of Approval and buy organic when possible. For more information on GMOs, go to The Non-GMO Project at www.nongmoproject.org.

For more info about Earth Girl Wellness, visit here.