Interview and photos by Jan Osborn.
Founded in Dallas, Texas in 1998, New Friends New Life (NFNL) restores and empowers formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women, teen girls, and children. By providing access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support, New Friends New Life helps women, teen girls and children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty, and limited opportunities. In 2019, NFNL served 372 members (clients). NFNL also educates the community and works to eradicate the epidemic of human trafficking through advocacy, legislative reform and strategic partnerships that address systemic causes.
As a former board member of NFNL, I have had the pleasure of watching NFNL grow from a grassroots organization to a nationally known nonprofit. It is hard to believe that just seventeen years ago a group of four women sat around my dining room table to hand make the luncheon invitations to attend the free event. Our goal was to challenge 100 women to give $1,000 and we did it! Today, my friends Jane A. Rose and Jessica Turner-Waugh are co-chairing the upcoming luncheon. We recently had the opportunity to visit with the two of them to learn more about why they are involved with NFNL.
Tell us about the 2020 New Friends New Life Luncheon.
Jane: Imagine hearing directly from a sex-trafficking survivor – a survivor who was arrested at the young age of 16, a juvenile sentenced as an adult for killing a man who solicited her for sex. This young girl, Cyntoia Brown-Long, was afraid for her life that night, and because of her actions, she spent 15 years in prison before receiving a commuted sentence by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Now an advocate for criminal justice reform, Cyntoia Brown-Long is passionate about shining a light on the injustices faced by women and children in American prisons.
We are excited to announce that Cyntoia will be the speaker for the 2020 New Friends New Life Luncheon, presented in a virtual format on Friday, September 18, 11:30 a.m. The author of Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System and the subject of a documentary about her life, Brown-Long will captivate our luncheon audience with her inspirational story and her work to make positive changes for these women and children.
As 2020 luncheon co-chairs, Jessica Turner-Waugh and I, along with luncheon Honorary Chairs Elizabeth and Eric Gambrell, are thrilled to support the mission of New Friends New Life, an incredible organization that is restoring and empowering formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women. They also do astonishing work raising awareness of sex trafficking and the changes that need to be made. I think most of us can honestly say that just a few years ago we never knew sex trafficking was happening right here in Dallas. It was something going on overseas, we thought. Thanks to NFNL, we are all more educated, inspired, and empowered to do something about it. This luncheon not only raises critical funding to help victims, but it also supports advocacy work needed to change the laws so that young victims like Cyntoia do not end up spending 15 years in prison. We must keep the conversation going, and we are counting on you to join us!
How does NFNL help those who have been sex trafficked? Why is it vital for companies and individuals to participate in this year’s event?
Jessica: Since becoming involved with NFNL, Jane and I have become more aware of the stories and situations faced by many formally trafficked and sexually exploited women, teen girls, and children. By the time they arrive at NFNL, many have endured years of trauma with no work history, place to live, or valid identification. Many have faced abuse their entire lives. New Friends New Life restores and empowers them, giving them hope and confidence. Additionally, NFNL does an amazing job educating the community and working to eradicate the epidemic of human trafficking with advocacy, legislative reform, and strategic partnerships – critical to address systemic causes.
By providing access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health, and spiritual support while helping them overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty, and limited opportunities, New Friends New Life is giving these women and children a new start. New Friends New Life’s Youth Resource Center (YRC), which opened in 2018 in partnership with the Office of the Governor to serve trafficked and high-risk teen girls, ages 12-24, is incredible! At the YRC, girls receive individual and group counseling, trauma-informed case management, life-skills development, weekly community activities (e.g., movement, art therapy), educational support and assistance with GEDs and college visits, and parents of trafficked teens can participate in a support group.
During this pandemic, NFNL has been working hard to stay in contact with their members. COVID-19 has presented new challenges for survivors who have endured a burden of economic and emotional loss. They have become more vulnerable to traffickers highly adept at capitalizing on their hardships for survival. Additionally, there has been an uptick in online sexual exploitation during the coronavirus.
NFNL’s annual luncheon raises critical dollars, and the organization will face a substantial loss in income without the community’s support. Now more than ever, we must come together to help. By educating ourselves and others and providing needed funding, we can make a difference.
Tell us about this year’s ProtectHER Award recipients and the impact they have made.
Jane: This year you will notice a theme at the luncheon! Our speaker and our award recipients are going to shine the spotlight on the incredible need for criminal justice reform. It has been wonderful to see progress that has been made as laws have begun to evolve and new bills have been passed. In fact, last June, Governor Abbott came to the New Friends New Life office and publicly signed important bills to combat human trafficking and aid sexual assault survivors. While we are making progress and changing the perception of how sex trafficking victims are viewed, there is still so much work to be done!
This year’s two ProtectHER Award recipients are certainly doing their part to make an impact regarding the injustices these women face. Let me introduce Natalie Nanasi and Brittany K. Barnett, the 2020 ProtectHER Award recipients.
Located on the campus of Southern Methodist University, you will find Natalie Nanasi, director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women and assistant professor of law, hard at work. Nanasi is a one-woman show who supervises SMU law school students’ representation of survivors of gender-based violence in a broad range of legal matters as well as systemic advocacy and policy work.
As a community partner with the legal center, New Friends New Life has referred many survivors to Natalie and her team, who have provided the assistance they so desperately needed. In 2019, 75 percent of NFNL members had a criminal record of some kind – a formidable barrier for them to find conventional employment, housing, and build a new life. From theft to drug convictions and prostitution, many suffer from a longstanding history of violence and abuse, and all their crimes are a direct result of the trafficking they have endured. Natalie and her team are dedicated to helping these women navigate the legal system and clear their records.
Prior to arriving at SMU, Natalie was a practitioner-in-residence and the director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at American University, Washington College of Law (WCL). Before joining the faculty at WCL, she was the senior immigration attorney and pro bono coordinator at the Tahirih Justice Center, where she represented immigrant women and girls fleeing human rights abuses such as female genital cutting, domestic and sexual violence, forced marriage, and honor crimes. She received her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center, where she earned an Equal Justice Foundation fellowship for her work at the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center in New Delhi, India, and assisted in representation of HIV-positive immigrants at Whitman Walker Clinic Legal Services. Prior to her legal career, she was a rape crisis counselor and supported single teenage mothers at a transitional residence facility in Boston. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas and the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
Our second award recipient is Brittany Barnett, an attorney and daughter of a formerly incarcerated mother, is committed to pro bono work and reform of the criminal justice system. Her life could have easily taken another direction, but she used her personal experiences in a positive way and made the choice to focus her career on helping others. She knows firsthand the impact of mass incarceration is far reaching and is devastating to families and entire communities. Barnett founded two nonprofits: the Buried Alive Project, which works to dismantle life without parole sentences handed down under federal drug laws and Girls Embracing Mothers, dedicated to empowering girls with mothers in prison. Barnett is also the founder of XVI Capital Partners and Milena Reign, social enterprises devoted to shifting the paradigm to show the world-changing impact that formerly incarcerated people can have when they have access to resources.
Along with being entrepreneur dedicated to reform of the criminal justice system, Barnett is an author. Her memoir, A Knock at Midnight, will be published in September. While working several years as a corporate attorney, Barnett was committed to pro bono representation of clients in federal prison under draconian drug laws. Her dedication resulted in freedom for many with federal drug offenses, including seven clients who received executive clemency from President Barack Obama. She is a graduate of SMU’s Dedman School of Law and previously served as the associate general counsel at ORIX USA Corporation focusing on mergers and acquisitions and general corporate matters. Prior to her legal career, Barnett earned her license as a Certified Public Accountant and worked for international accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. She has been featured nationally on multiple news platforms, including television and print and has earned many honors, including being named one of America’s most Outstanding Young Lawyers by the American Bar Association.
Tell us how you hope Cyntoia Brown-Long’s message will resonate with viewers?
Jane: I hope Cyntoia’s message reminds us that there are real lives behind all the numbers and statistics – girls with potential that may or may not be realized depending upon whether they have people who believe in them, who love them, and who may or may not get the proper help and assistance they need. For every Cyntoia who had people fighting for her, there are thousands of girls who have slipped through the cracks and have little or no hope. We must close those “cracks.” When she was convicted, Cyntoia was considered a prostitute who committed murder instead of who she was – a child who was prostituted and was also a victim. It is incumbent upon us to fight for our children and to protect them – not to lock them up for the rest of their lives so that there is no hope for them to realize their potential.
Jessica: When I heard about Cyntoia’s life journey and read her book, I was thankful for her frank description of the many faces of sex trafficking. On television, in movies, the plight of trafficking shows us a seedy underworld of girls needing to be rescued, held in a basement somewhere in large groups. While the Hollywood depiction of sex trafficking holds some truth, what I hope people hear from Cyntoia is that there is another side – a quiet, secret side that is small and not a part of a big operation. Girls are trafficked by people they love, trust and hope will take care of them. The rebuilding of trust will take a lifetime of work, and Cyntoia shows us that this is possible. Throughout Cyntoia’s childhood and incarcerations, she needed someone to #StandforHer and join her in her fight to rebuild her life. This partnership is the dedication of New Friends New Life, and I hope the viewers will join us in the battle.
When did you both first become familiar with New Friends New Life and its mission, and how are you involved with the organization?
Jane: I will never forget how I learned about New Friends New Life and its mission. I was having dinner in 2014 with my good friends Ashlee and Chris Kleinert. They were discussing their work in combatting sex trafficking. I thought sex trafficking was something that happened on the opposite side of the globe – not in our city! I was shocked and horrified that they were in fact combatting sex trafficking in Dallas, Texas. In fact, sex trafficking was occurring right under my nose, and I had no idea. So I immediately wanted to learn everything I could. New Friends New Life is at the forefront of combatting this issue. Its mission is to help women and children who have been subject to the horrors of sex trafficking, educate and bring this stigmatized issue out of the shadows to inform the public, and promote legislation to prosecute those who prostitute the victims of sex trafficking instead of prosecuting the victims themselves. I have served on the board of directors of New Friends New Life since 2017 and am co-chairing this year’s annual luncheon.
Jessica: When I was in college at SMU, my mother, Gail Turner, and some ladies from our church began mentoring a woman who needed help. She was involved in the sex industry and wanted to be released from its many holds on her life. This group of women soon discovered there was a great need to mentor and help those involved and trapped in the sex industry. So, I am proud to say, I have been involved with New Friends New Life since the inception. I have witnessed it grow from serving the women of the sex industry to expanding and combating sex trafficking. I remember the very first luncheon, all those years ago, held at SMU with my sister, an opera singer, as the entertainment. It was definitely a full family event! I also recall witnessing my father, Gerald Turner, getting involved with NFNL and realizing that trafficking is not just an issue for women, it is an issue for everyone. I am honored and committed to continuing the work of my mother alongside her on the board of directors in this, my inaugural year. I am also co-chairing this year’s luncheon with Jane A. Rose, my new dynamic friend.
What shocked you most about the sex trafficking industry when you first learned about it?
Jane: I thought sex trafficking is something that happens in other parts of the world, not in Dallas, Texas! I was blown away. Four hundred girls are being sex trafficked every night in Dallas?! And those girls are around the same age as my daughter! How is this even possible? When I first learned these facts, I felt so completely naïve. What rock had I been living under? How did I know absolutely nothing about this? Isn’t it our obligation as citizens of this city to do anything we can to protect these girls who are just children? If we don’t, who will?
Jessica: I have three daughters and the oldest is 14. When I learned that the average age of a girl being trafficked is 15, I knew I had to get more involved. 400 teens are trafficked in Dallas every night right outside our windows! How can we not step in and fight? When I look in the eyes of my girls, my heart yearns for the trafficked girls in our city. How could I tuck my daughters in at night knowing there are girls in our great city trapped and feeling hopeless? Texas ranks number two in the nation for human trafficking and Dallas is number two in the state. It can initially feel overwhelming, but we can change the statistics if we do it together. New Friends New Life has the template for this change, and every bit of help leads us closer to the goal.
The coronavirus has made this such a challenging time for nonprofits and fall fundraising events. How will a virtual luncheon look? What can guests and sponsors expect?
Jessica: While we cannot be together in one room this year, we can still make a difference, and that is truly what it is all about! This virtual luncheon experience is certainly different and new for everyone, but Jessica and I are impressed with the NFNL team’s creativity and hard work as we focus on our goals to expand our reach, creating greater awareness – this year especially focusing on criminal justice reform – and raising much needed funds. One of the greatest things about a virtual event is that there is no limit on the number of attendees! Everyone can participate. Everyone can learn. Everyone can make a difference.
Underwriting sponsorships opportunities begin at $2,500, and individual tickets are available for $100 each. Guests will receive a link to view the luncheon, with sponsors also receiving sponsor gift boxes and digital package benefits.
Join us for a luncheon that will be immensely powerful and informative!
How can someone support and attend this virtual event?