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Durham mom works to help human trafficking victims through 'transforming hope'

Posted September 25, 2016

Abbi Tenaglia

Abbi Tenaglia didn't take the easy road in life. Addiction and abuse are familiar topics to this Durham mom of one.

But, she credits her strong belief in God for turning her life around. And it was in church where her life took a new direction. A speaker shared stories about the victims of human trafficking.

"I have not been commercially exploited but, because of what I have been through, I am committed to using my one and only life on earth to fight for the freedom of those who have been trafficked," Tenaglia writes.

In 2010, Tenaglia founded Transforming Hope Ministries, a faith-based, para-church, non-profit group, that helps those who are exploited through domestic human trafficking. The group works to build up their skills so they can avoid becoming victims again and encourages faith in God.

Tenaglia lives in Durham with her daughter and dog. She also does bookkeeping and administrative tasks for several small businesses in the Triangle, including Carolina Wealth Stewards, a financial planning firm in Durham that has donated office space to Transforming Hope.

And, she leads Vend Raleigh's group for nonprofits. Proceeds from Vend Raleigh's upcoming Illuminate conference on Oct. 13 in Raleigh will be donated to Transforming Hope. The conference is designed for women entrepreneurs. Registration is open.

I chatted with Tenaglia by email about her work. Here's our Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: What is Transforming Hope Ministries all about? How did it get started?

Abbi Tenaglia: Transforming Hope Ministries is about ending human trafficking happening right here in the Triangle to children and adults who call America home. We work to end this injustice through education, prevention and restoration. THM was started in November 2010 after I heard Christine Caine with the A21 Campaign share some of her stories about trafficking in Europe. As I researched human trafficking, I discovered how prevalent it is right here in the United States and how much it aligned with my own past trauma and brokenness.

GAM: How common is domestic human trafficking? Is it happening here in the Triangle?

AT: It is more common than most people think. Typically, when we hear the term "human trafficking," we think of someone coming from another country into the United States to be sold for sex or labor and that absolutely does happen. But American children and adults are also being sold.

Currently, North Carolina is ranked in the top ten states on the FBI's list of states most likely to have trafficking occur. I have personally seen folks as young as 12 and 13 years old walking the streets trying to garner business. I've also seen pimps or traffickers watching not to far behind them. We know that homeless youth are some of the most vulnerable people in terms of who might be trafficked and, on Jan, 29, 2014, the Coalition to End Homelessness counted 333 homeless people under the age of 18 in Durham and Wake Counties alone.

If homeless youth are affiliated with the LGBTQ community (and about 40 percent are) they are even more vulnerable for something like human trafficking. We receive calls almost every week seeking help and direction for folks living right here in the Triangle and have found themselves or others close to them in terrible trafficking situations.

GAM: What are you working on now?

AT: Today, we focus our efforts heavily on education and prevention. We can't simply sit on the bank of the river and pull people out. We must go upstream and figure out why they're falling in in the first place. So we have educated well over 3,000 individuals at this point, many of whom are parents, teens, and first responders or service providers (medical professionals, law enforcement, teachers, social workers).

We now have training programs in Spanish and English. We serve on several task forces around the Triangle to build relationships with other organizations and support their efforts in any way we can. We also work in the community on a regular basis to build relationships with those in the community who may be more vulnerable and then we connect them with these organizations to get them services.

The hope in doing this is that then something more significantly traumatizing, like human trafficking, may never happen if services are provided and folks are supported well. Right now, restoration is more indirect in that we train others and they provide services. For instance, we trained law enforcement and then they were able to use that knowledge to properly identify a victim of human trafficking locally and then get this person connected with services.

Also, as we're developing relationships with other organizations in the Triangle, we are also identifying gaps in services and working with these organizations to create and provide new direct services, such as emergency shelter. New services are set to start in the new year.

GAM: Your work includes encouraging dads to be their little girl's hero. Why are fathers so important in this equation?

AT: One major commonality in girls who have been trafficked is the fact that their fathers aren't healthy role models in their daughters' lives. Either they left a long time ago, they're abusive in some way, they passed away, they're in and out of their daughters' lives, etc. So if we can support healthy father/daughter relationships, this can be another way we contribute to preventing things like human trafficking from happening.

GAM: How can people help Transforming Hope and your mission?

AT: We need champions! We need folks who can help us champion this cause to end human trafficking in America.

We can offer more education to groups and individuals and then we need folks to get on social media and start talking about this issue. We need folks to use their buying power to demand a fair wage and good living conditions for the workers who make our clothes, food, and provide our services.

We need individuals to join us on trips to Durham to serve the community one Saturday every other month for two to three hours. We need folks to donate food, supplies, and financial resources to help us serve the community on these Saturdays. We need interns! We need people to connect with us on social media and help us educate others by sharing the information we post. We have a list of ways to help on our website.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.


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