Freedom For All

Two summers ago, I had the amazing opportunity to intern with Katie Ford’s anti-human trafficking organization, Freedom For All (FFA and previously known as the Katie Ford Foundation). Daughter of the deceased Gerard W. Ford and Eileen Ford, the founders of the Ford Modeling Agency (or “Ford Models”), Ms. Ford ran the agency for 12 years until she sold the company in 2007.

Not only was the Ford Modeling Agency the most successful of its time, it was known for its deep concern for the safety and well being of the young women it represented. Using the knowledge and values ingrained in her from having grown up in her family and in this business world, Ms. Ford was not only became the successful CEO of the agency but also transferred her knowledge of the careful regulations needed to ensure the models’ safety to the cause of anti-human trafficking. Freedom For All is dedicated to raising awareness of the largely “invisible” problem of human trafficking. FFA focuses on educating businesses on how to have systems in place that treat their employees fairly and protect them from human-trafficking.

The organization has many other partners that do more on the ground. For example, Visayan Forum executes regular raids and rehabilitates the girls they save. This group was featured at Freedom For All’s Spring 2015 Gala at The Standard Hotel in New York City. Jeevika is similarly hands-on, but is based in India rather than the Philippines. Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) works closer to home (in New York) with female victims of sex trafficking. These are just three out of eight of Freedom For All’s partners.

When I first interned with her in summer 2014, I went to stay with Katie Ford and her two assistants at her summer home. There, I did a myriad of tasks, ranging from organizing and stapling auction packets to running credit cards for donations to scouring a beach for rocks to be used as paper weights.

Perhaps the most important part of my work was what I did before I went to join Ms. Ford. While I was still in high school, I began researching FFA’s partners for Katie Ford’s welcome speech for the Summer 2014 Gala. Talk about jumping in head first! I will say that perhaps what made this internship unique (in its most regular, non-spectacular way), was that it started out as a remote job before transitioning to an on-site one that very quickly became everything I lived and breathed for until the Gala was over. If I were to attempt to fully enumerate how amazing this opportunity was, it would take forever. But I will say that by being a part a large fundraising event for such a worthwhile cause, I feel passionately about was an incomparable feeling. Knowing that the part I played, no matter how small, helped fund life-changing programs for people with little or no hope filled me with happiness and pride.

​Throughout the whole experience, what surprised me the most was how down to earth Katie Ford was. She exhibits the same hard-working ethic her mother was famous for. She focused very intently on whatever needed to be done but also could quickly switch between tasks, making her a one-woman wonder amidst everyone constantly updating her on details. I also didn’t expect to have so many one-on-one interactions with her during one of the busiest times of her year so it was truly inspiring to see her work at such a close proximity.

After this first experience we parted ways and I started my senior year of high school. My experience had such a deep impact on me that I continued to research the issue and did multiple school projects around the topic. To name a few, I made a presentation about it in French, did a statistics paper on the number of reported instances of trafficking based on country, and taught a classroom of tenth-graders about the various, often unexpectedly lenient punishments for traffickers across the United States. While I’ve had less time to continuing research, it is still an issue very close to my heart and will probably always remain so.

Towards the end of my senior year of high school, Katie Ford contacted me again asking if I was free to volunteer for the aforementioned Spring 2015 Gala. Of course, I said yes. And although it was a much more truncated schedule for me (I came in towards the end of the preparation), I acted as one of the “hostesses,” whose responsibilities included setting up tables with donation cards, pens, name cards, and more. I was also one of six or seven people leading guests to their assigned seats in the venue and accepting donations.

If I was even a fraction as helpful to her as I hoped to be, I would be happy. Working with Katie Ford was an amazing and unforgettable experience and truly taught me about how organizations work behind the scenes (spoiler alert: it’s not always glamorous). All the same, it needs to be done and Ms. Ford does it with such grace.

To learn more about Freedom For All, you can follow the organization on Twitter, Facebook, and Vimeo. I especially recommend looking at their Vimeo channel as they have a haunting, three-video series called “Stop the Nightmare.” One addresses the more well-known sex trafficking, another on the perhaps more subtle labor trafficking, and my personal favorite: one that calls attention to the thousands of suffering, invisible people. You can watch “Stop the Nightmare: Invisible” right there.

One last cool note, red sand was distributed at the Spring 2015 Gala and attendees were encouraged to leave the sand in the cracks to draw attention to trafficking victims who are constantly falling through the legal system and are being denied their natural human rights.

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