PHOTO: The Chick-fil-a community road trip saw participants visit Unchained Movement to do community work for the organization // Photo courtesy of Rachel Irby
Just in Tennessee, 94 teens are trafficked every month. To report a suspected case of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Unchained Movement, a nonprofit organization bent on combating human trafficking, is currently fighting to relaunch its residential program, which was closed in August of 2017 due to lack of funding.
Founded in 2011 by Rachel Irby, Unchained planted its roots in Spring Hill in 2013, launching its successful residential program two years later. Irby, who had seen the results of sexual abuse and human trafficking first-hand growing up, spending years of her adolescence in various foster homes, has been helping children and young adults for more than a decade.
The residential program accepted women from ages 18 to 24 who had been trafficked at one point, putting them through a months’ long program. The program would see these young women receive counseling, life skills, job training, substance abuse counseling, all while giving them a place to stay and putting them on a path to receive their high school equivalency diploma.
Despite the program’s success, a combination of financial troubles, as well as a reevaluation of what the program could be, had caused Unchained to close its Spring Hill location, along with the residential program.
“To do it the way that we wanted to do it, we needed full-time staff,” Irby said. “We had to have more money to hire staff. It was not going to be able to function off of just volunteers and one staff member.”
It was also in late 2017 when Unchained’s funding dropped significantly, going from roughly $3,000 to only $450 a month.
“If I’m really honest, after the residential program closed, it became kind of a year of searching, as far as, is this really what I want to continue to do,” Irby said. “At the same time, we had somebody from Homeland Security come up and visit our program and say how impressed she was, [and that] it was one of the best programs that she has seen. Then we had [victim advocates] from Florida come out and they said ‘you have one of the best programs.’ The fact that we had so many people compliment what we were doing, with only one full-time staff, says a lot.”
Despite the setbacks, Irby decided to fight to continue the mission of Unchained, saying that what she does makes her “feel alive.”
“When I’m talking, I feel alive all of a sudden,” Irby said. “I feel like the knowledge that I have is there for a reason, and I have credibility behind what I do just because of how I learned about it. I have stories, I have first-hand experiences … I didn’t learn this in a textbook.”
For what Irby calls the “rebirth phase” of Unchained, the organization first is prepping a donated school bus into a national tour vehicle, where Irby is planning to do presentation tours across the country. Called the Unchained Skoolie Project, the venture’s Instagram page already has close to 1,000 followers.
Second, Unchained has partnered with Maury County Public Schools, planning to give presentations throughout the school year on how to spot symptoms of human trafficking, and what to do about it.
Last, Unchained’s ultimate goal is to relaunch its residential program. Irby explained that for past young women in the program, the journey to move beyond their previous lives is long and littered with relapses, but that through perseverance — something Unchained prides itself in — can ultimately result in changing a girl’s life forever.
“The average amount of times it takes for a girl to leave the life is between seven and eleven attempts,” Irby said. “If we take girls in at 18, many of them have never tried before to get out. This idea of how we’re living, here in Spring Hill, is so opposite of their whole world. Their world is fast, constantly on the move. We’re teaching them skills that are so foreign to them.”
To achieve the relaunch of the residential program, Irby is seeking three things; funding, staff and volunteers.
Since the program takes in young women from anywhere in the country, they are disqualified for many Tennessee specific grants. So instead, Unchained is seeking sponsorships from churches, business, schools, and anything in between. Such sponsors would be featured heavily at their year-round presentations in both Maury schools, and across the county via their national tours.
Second, to expand its residential program, Unchained is seeking to hire more full-time staff to accommodate the workload of multiple clients.
And lastly, Unchained is very much seeking volunteers. From helping with constructing the tour bus, to networking, social media, special events and more, Irby is always happy to accept helping hands, regardless of a person’s availability.
For Irby, this venture couldn’t be more personal. One of the main reasons for her growing up in multiple foster homes, was her mother’s inability to properly care for her. It wouldn’t be until Irby was a young adult, that she found out her mother herself had been trafficked since the age of 14.
“I just feel like everything that’s happened in my life, it feels on some level it has prepared me to be able to work in this area,” Irby said, calling this venture her “life’s calling.” “When I first started to dive into this world of human sex trafficking, I saw it as the most heinous crime that could ever be committed towards a human being. Beyond my own past, it’s just understanding that there are actual people that are being harmed, and being practically tortured and brainwashed. How can I know about this and not do anything about it?”
For sponsorship, staffing or volunteer inquiries and information, please visit the Unchained Movement website by clicking here.