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Students’ winning proposal calls attention to human trafficking

By Staff | Jun 6, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED Hughesville High School students (from left) Lauren Hall, Valerie Ammar-Khodja and Logan Woolcock were awarded $1,791 to realize a planned Race to Freedom in late August to raise awareness for human trafficking.

WILLIAMSPORT Acting locally to spotlight a worldwide concern, three Hughesville High School juniors are planning a 5K Race for Freedom this summer to make the community more aware of human trafficking.

The students, Valerie Ammar-Khodja, Lauren Hall and Logan Woolcock, were presented with a $1,791 check during a Penn College Youth Leadership graduation ceremony on May 3. The judges were so impressed by the initiative that it was fully funded as the sole winner of the program’s Social Change Competition.

Thirty 11th-graders from 10 secondary schools participated throughout the year in the program, designed to educate and motivate them to understand community needs and take an active leadership role in addressing them.

“Once again, we were fortunate to have an excellent group of high school students from our area participate in the Penn College Youth Leadership program,” said Anthony J. Pace, director of student activities. “Each year, we are amazed at the time, effort and care given to identifying community need and proposing a solution to that need. This year’s funded project is an incredible example of the power of leadership at any age.”

Pennsylvania College of Technology annually operates the program, which was coordinated this year by Pace and Sal Vitko, assistant director of student activities for student organizations/orientation.

As part of the Youth Leadership curriculum, each team was challenged to identify a need in their community, develop a plan to address it, propose that plan for judging and, if funded, implement it. Presentations were held April 26 and the winners announced during the graduation exercises at the Thompson Professional Development Center.

Human trafficking is a type of modern-day slavery, second only to the criminal drug trade in illegal profit. Statistics cited by the students, who became aware through news accounts and a presentation before a local service club, indicate 199 cases in Pennsylvania during 2017 including 54 underage victims.

“This is concerning because we ourselves are minors, and we need to stand up for our peers that cannot, and spread the message of how to identify and stand against human trafficking,” said the Hughesville students. “We knew it was a foreign issue and even an issue in the United States, but when we heard it was happening in our area, we felt the need to draw awareness to it.”

Ammar-Khodja, Hall and Woolcock have already laid the groundwork for the event, tentatively set for Montoursville’s Indian Park. Proceeds will benefit Transitions and the YWCA, community-based organizations that offer such services as emergency housing and legal advocacy, with the added benefit of broader awareness.

“Our goal is to provide education for people and have them walk away from the event with a better understanding of what human trafficking is and how it could potentially impact their lives,” the students wrote. “We want to unite people over a common goal of bettering themselves and their community, and give people a mode for carrying this out. The outcome will be increased education for the greater community and increased support for our selected organizations.”

Judges for the Social Change Competition were Davie Jane Gilmour, college president; William J. Martin, retired senior vice president; and Jennifer D. Wilson, president and CEO of the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.

Other 2018 local Youth Leadership graduates and their schools are: Alexys Erb, Curtis Gordon and Novalee Leonard of Montgomery Area High School; and Taylor Bryson, Gianna Edkin and Coleman Good of Muncy Junior/Senior High School.