Stritch Students Address Human Trafficking, Form Bonds with Local Organizations

September 11, 2017

When Biology professor Dawn Wankowski learned that Cardinal Stritch University students had been invited to participate in the 2016 Kapco Charitable Challenge, she knew it was an offer she absolutely had to accept. And, even beyond her expectations, the experience had a life-changing effect on the students, faculty mentors and greater Milwaukee community.
“The Kapco Charitable Challenge provides a unique service opportunity for our students,” said Wankowski. “Being invited to such a meaningful and well-respected activity is quite an honor for our University and students.”
Stritch formed three teams to tackle serious community issues – human trafficking, dental care for underserved Milwaukee youth, and immunizations for Hmong adults and children.
“The Challenge teaches young people that they can make a difference on a local, regional and statewide basis,” said Sara Grover, manager of operations and events for KNE, Kapco's entertainment division. “They really embrace the unselfish spirit of giving and realize the true power they have.”
Faculty mentors led the teams, which each received seed money to create awareness and raise additional funds for their respective issues. Nineteen other local college/university and high school teams participated in the challenge, which ran from September to November.

The Stritch Traffic Wardens

“The Kapco Charitable Challenge was a very eye-opening experience,” said Jitsupa “Jacey” Sirinit who was a member of the Stritch Traffic Wardens team (pictured above) that focused on human trafficking. “We learned about people in our community who have undergone traumatic experiences and we met many community leaders who are inspiring change to fight human trafficking. The Challenge provided us the opportunity to make a lasting impact in ways that most other service opportunities did not. We learned about how to be actively compassionate to make a difference.”
Faculty mentors saw students approach their work with an added level of energy and commitment.
“I have never seen students work so tirelessly and it was because they were so passionate about their causes,” Wankowski said. “They became passionate because they got to know the people in our community.”
Assistant math professor Suzanne Caulfield and associate English professor Stacey Floyd served as faculty mentors along with Wankowski.
“I saw the confidence of the students grow over the course of the Challenge,” said Caulfield. “Our role was to mentor them so that they could get their work done. I helped keep the group focused in the first phase so they could identify how best to go about their work.”
As they served, they also learned and made connections.
“The students learned that effective group dynamics were going to be important and they truly became experts on their topics,” said Floyd. “Serving as a mentor was rewarding because I had the opportunity to experience our students in an entirely different way. I definitely built new connections with the students.”
Stritch Traffic Wardens Collaborate with Local Organizations
The Stritch Traffic Wardens partnered with the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, Fresh Start Learning, the Franciscan Peacemakers and the Legal Options for Trafficked and Underserved Survivors (LOTUS) Legal Clinic to address human trafficking. The team was one of four teams to advance to the semifinals (along with the Stritch dental team) and ultimately won the Judges’ Award at the final ceremony.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, approximately 300,000 children become trafficking victims annually. All 72 counties in the state of Wisconsin have documented cases of trafficking and 79% of the cases reported in Wisconsin occur in the City of Milwaukee.
“One of the tenets of the Challenge is to expose young people to issues they don’t typically experience,” said Grover. “The Traffic Wardens, in particular, helped make people aware of an issue that has become prevalent.”
The students’ relationship with the LOTUS Legal Clinic grew to be especially close and didn’t end when the Challenge was completed. In less than two months and in collaboration with the LOTUS Legal Clinic, the Traffic Wardens raised more than $3,000 to create an annual Survivor Scholarship for survivors of human trafficking to attend Stritch.

Proceeds from a soap sale helped fund a Stritch scholarship for a survivor of human trafficking.

In serving as mentor and sounding board, Caulfield connected the students with Rachel Monaco-Wilcox, founder and CEO of the LOTUS Legal Clinic, whom she knew when both taught at Mount Mary University. The connection was key to creating a vibrant project.
“Rachel educated us about human trafficking and her kind heart inspired us,” said Sirinit, who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in May 2017. “The scholarship fund we created in partnership with LOTUS will provide many people with opportunities to obtain an education and will have a lasting impact.”
Stritch Traffic Wardens Continue Collaboration with LOTUS Legal Clinic
Each year at Gathering on the Green, a two-night performing arts festival held at Mequon Rotary Park in July, a local organization is recognized for its work in the community. LOTUS was identified as the 2017 organization through Grover, who also serves as Gathering’s volunteer development director. The Traffic Wardens created a short film to highlight the cause and the work of LOTUS that was shown during Gathering on the Green.
“We have a unique opportunity to use the Gathering on the Green platform to share the important work of organizations like LOTUS with a wider audience,” said Grover. “We were so impressed with the Stritch students during the Challenge that we asked them to make another video to use at Gathering on the Green.”
This new opportunity offered a wider audience for the awareness campaign.
“We were humbled to have the opportunity to share our message with the thousands of people who attended Gathering on the Green,” said Monaco-Wilcox. “We simply would not have seen the interest in our organization or the issue of human trafficking without the tremendous work of the Stritch Traffic Wardens.”
LOTUS will receive a portion of net proceeds from the July 22 Gathering on the Green concert that featured Grammy Award winning singer Daya.
Experience Leads to Life-Changing Impact on Students, Community
“When Branden Vugrnick (who graduated from Stritch in May 2017 and is now attending medical school) presented at the final event, I could actually envision him being a doctor,” said Caulfield. “There is no question that our students are prepared for their careers as a result of participating in the Kapco Charitable Challenge.”
“Working with our students was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have been a part of in my 18 years at Stritch,” said Wankowski. “This will propel our students into successful professional careers and they will carry the important lessons they learned with them for the rest of their lives.”
“I felt a great sense of hope because through the Challenge. I saw that young people truly do care about their communities and are capable of making change,” Floyd said.
See the LOTUS Legal Clinic video the Stritch Traffic Wardens created for the Gathering on the Green at this link. More videos are available on the Stritch Traffic Wardens YouTube channel.

Rachel Monaco-Wilcox of the LOTUS Legal Clinic shown in one of the Stritch Traffic Wardens videos.

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