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10/3/2012 11:36:00 AM
SMA students organizing walk to end modern slavery
St. Mary's Academy photo
Catherine Mattecheck, Isabela Villarreal, Allison Nasson, Olivia Hinerfeld and Iris Dowd are organizers of an Oct. 6 walk to raise awareness about human trafficking.
St. Mary's Academy photo
Catherine Mattecheck, Isabela Villarreal, Allison Nasson, Olivia Hinerfeld and Iris Dowd are organizers of an Oct. 6 walk to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Three years ago, St. Mary's Academy student Allison Nasson watched a video on human trafficking with the school's Human Rights Club. It ignited a passion for educating people about modern-day slavery and the fight to end it.

Nasson formed an anti-slavery committee at school that this summer evolved into the nonprofit Youth Ending Slavery, or YES. Nasson, a 17-year-old Portland resident and senior at St. Mary's Academy, is the organization's founder and executive director. She sits on the YES board of directors with four St. Mary's classmates -- seniors Iris Dowd, Olivia Hinerfeld, Catherine Mattecheck and Isabela Villarreal.

"Human trafficking is an issue that really affects young women not only internationally but also in our own country and city. It's much less removed from our lives than we'd like to think it is," Nasson said.

YES will hold its first Walk to End Slavery Saturday, Oct. 6, at 2 p.m. at Director Park in downtown Portland (Southwest Park and Yamhill) to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking and ways that people can make responsible choices as consumers to help put an end to involuntary servitude. The walk is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.youthendingslavery.org.

The event will open with remarks from Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel, followed by a one-mile walk through downtown. Money raised will benefit Janus Youth Programs' shelter for juvenile sex-trafficking victims in Portland.

Many people would be surprised to know how widespread issues of sex and labor trafficking really are, Nasson said. The nonprofit organization Free the Slaves puts the number of people globally who are living in some form of slavery at 27 million.

Sex-trafficking of minors is all too prevalent in Portland. In 2009, the FBI conducted a number of stings across the country and found that Portland ranked second-worst in the nation in child sex trafficking, following only Seattle. The findings proved controversial but nonetheless highlighted an important problem.

"Human trafficking, especially the commercial sexual exploitation of children, impacts all facets of our community -- including our law enforcement departments, social services providers, our businesses, schools and our families. I have been compelled to work on this issue since I first learned about it. I couldn't continue to stand by as young children were being bought and sold right under our noses. I commend St. Mary's Academy for their efforts to raise awareness about the issue," McKeel said.

Social justice is a cornerstone of students' education at St. Mary's. Human trafficking is one of the corporate stands of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the religious order that founded St. Mary's. Nasson said her ethics and social justice classes at St. Mary's and the support of the faculty here helped encourage her to form YES.

"St. Mary's emphasizes being compassionate toward people whether you know them or not, and that even as students and young people we play a big part in determining what our world is going to look like," Nasson said.

Nasson and her fellow YES board members have made their teachers proud.

"Allison really astonishes me with her quiet, persistent leadership. She has this passion for justice. I am unbelievably impressed with her perseverance and follow-through, and with the dedication of the entire YES board," said Maria Fleming, who teaches religion and coordinates the student service program at St. Mary's Academy.

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