The GO:61 Story
Luis and Casey Alvarez co-founded GO:61 in January of 2014. Before founding the organization, they served Springfield, Missouri's homeless population through a variety of services. From going on street outreaches to serving meals to 120 individuals in need a week, they soon realized that with a little more effort, they could provide much more holistic care to the homeless in their community. This realization gave way to the implementation of art classes, clothing distribution, Bible studies, freedom writer classes, and computer classes to many of the homeless populations in Springfield. After being immersed in this community for five years, one late night outreach led to a discovery - the possibility that children were for sale in their city.
For many years, I was aware of and emotionally invested in the cause of human trafficking victims. While I fully believed their cause was one worth pursuing to end, I had no idea how I could get involved. In my mind, for so many years, I always assumed this was an injustice that was occurring overseas....in places like Nepal, Ghana, Serbia, and Russia. Because it seemed so far away, I did not think I could do anything about it. I never imagined it was happening here in my community in the Bible Belt, in comfortable and posh Springfield, MO. All that changed when I was on a street outreach to reach out to homeless people, and I witnessed a young girl in a prostitution-type situation. She was about ten, and it looked like she was for sale. Dressed in exceptionally-provocative clothing and being shielded away from us and seemingly forced to stand on the square to get the attention of men passing by, the knowledge that this girl was probably for sale hit me directly in the face. This moment was a defining moment for me and one I could not ignore and return to business as usual.
With the support of my husband and a few close friends, I founded GO:61. Even with the experience I had with the small girl on Springfield's square, I still believed that overall human trafficking was not a problem the Ozark area faced. In our first board meeting, I was encouraged to begin investigating human trafficking cases and situations which were local. The next two months of research revealed astonishing information. I learned that there was a significant demand for sex with children in Greene County, and where is a demand, there is always a supply. We did a study of a two-year period to see how many documented sex crimes there were against children and discovered hundreds of convictions - in Greene County alone. As we considered the report, it was clear that there were more than likely many more cases that were never reported.
I started hosting meetings with individuals one-on-one in coffee shops and sharing everything I knew about human trafficking with them. One person at a time during the first year, we were multiplying. It was often difficult to get people to realize the issue was local and that something actually could be done about it. In 2014, a small group of GO:61 team members and I attended human trafficking training at the U.S. Attorney's Office through the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, a division of the Human Trafficking Rescue Project with the Department of Justice.
At this training, we learned more about the commodification and exploitation of people. We learned in part what it takes to rescue them, what other agencies were doing, and how to begin receiving victims with thoughtful care and advocacy. And we also learned that Missouri had ranked at the top of most prosecuted human trafficking crimes in the nation. In fact, the report shared with us stated that the Western District of Missouri had prosecuted more human trafficking cases than any other district in the nation. We returned to Springfield with the confirmation that this was an issue that must be pursued and could no longer be ignored. For me, I knew I could not live in a city where children and adults were commodified and go about life as normal. People are not products. They're created in the image of God. Those who fall into human trafficking and exploitation are vulnerable and they're worth defending, rescuing, restoring, and advocating on their behalf.
In 2015, GO:61 initiated a formal volunteer training program and a community education initiative. At the end of the year, more than 600 people were provided human trafficking education. In 2016, GO:61 provided combinations of training and education to more than 1,200 individuals. In these years, the organization also developed outreach teams and victim service teams. Today, we respond to crisis calls, provide long-term restoration services, and send teams to high-risk locales to meet victims and those at-risk right where they are struggling to exist.
With the beginning of 2017, GO:61 has 35 active volunteers and more than two dozen informed advocates who provide as-needed support and service. 2017 also brought in a new facility, a space we call the Refuge, donated by The Way Church of Springfield. At this facility, we provide victim mentoring and support, intake and assessments, and specialized training for team members. Linking arms together, and inviting the community to join us, we focus on reclaiming people from human trafficking and exploitation and shutting down the demand of domestic sex trafficking. Restorative justice is possible when people commit to long-term work and advocacy to bring about enduring change.
- Casey Alvarez, GO:61 Executive Director
Read Casey's Personal Testimony