Love hearing the stories of how because of you, The Salvation Army is changing lives! Janice was in search of hope and a new life before coming to The Salvation Army of Tampa/Hillsborough County. She is so happy to be starting that new life today. Take a look at Janice’s quest to a new beginning.

Because of You! This story is about a life you are changing and the difference you are making.

Hundreds of families rely on The Salvation Army to help put food on the table when times are tough. Local food pantries face donation shortages during the summer months, now that summer is coming to an end and children are heading back to school, it is not too late to donate to your local food pantries.

A very special client was featured in this segment from NBC 2 in Naples Florida, sharing her story of how The Salvation Army in Naples played a major role in helping she and her husband rebuild their lives following one of the most trying times they’ve experienced. It included many setbacks, medical emergencies and surgeries, a fire that destroyed their home and claimed their beloved dogs, months of homelessness and hunger, fear and worry.

But through it all…there was hope, and there was help. The Salvation Army was able to provide resources and support and today their lives stand in stark contrast to what once was. The couple now volunteers Monday – Friday at a local church in Immokalee by assisting with meal preparation and serving the Immokalee community. For them, giving back is more than a nice thing to do. It’s a reminder of how far they have come through struggle, and how they hope to help others make it through too.

After their story appeared on NBC-2, Justine Andollo, a member of The National Aging in Place Council reached out to The Salvation Army in Naples, wanting to help even more. Justine is working to connect the couple with even more resources, and even provided a gracious donation of furniture and other items for their current home. Justine – we thank you deeply for playing the part of a true neighbor, and for Doing The Most Good in our community.

As the Director of Camp Keystone, it is a high honor to see the campers that come through our gates each summer. I try to make it a point to get on the buses as they prepare to leave Camp Keystone and head home and say farewell to all the campers.

One day I asked a camper sitting on the bus what his favorite thing was about camp. “Was it swimming?” No. He only shrugged his shoulders and said it was just okay. “Was it fishing? Canoeing? Crafts? Bible Class? The night programs?” All of these were just met with the same tepid, ho-hum, it was okay I guess, responses. Finally, I said, “Man! You got to tell me what your favorite thing about camp was?” With a huge smile, the boy finally came to life and said, “I got to eat three meals in one day!”

It was in that moment that I remember why we exist. This kid thought a day with breakfast, lunch, and supper was the best thing to ever happen to him.

This little boy teaches us to be grateful for everything that we have. As Camp Keystone opens for the summer, we remember the nearly 1,200 campers who will come to us grateful for the small things that you help provide.

God bless.
Captain Matt Satterlee
Divisional Youth Secretary

Do you want to sponsor a child for a lifetime experience? It isn’t too late:

Congratulations to Dotti Groover-Skipper, The Florida Divisional Anti-Trafficking Coordinator for The Salvation Army!!

Dotti-Community-Hero-2-16

Tuesday, 02.23.2016 / 8:00 PM ET / News
Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Dotti Groover-Skipper as the 32nd Lightning Community Hero of the 2015-16 season during the first period of tonight’s game versus the Arizona Coyotes. Groover-Skipper, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Underground Network.

Tonight’s community hero has served the Tampa Bay area tirelessly for over 30 years. Groover-Skipper has formed several coalitions in order to quietly serve those who have been affected by addiction, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. One of the coalitions, The FREE Network, has been at the forefront by assisting law enforcement with victims while educating communities on labor, sex and organ trafficking.

Her time and energy towards this cause has heightened awareness of human trafficking throughout various communities to ensure education amongst local youth. She wishes to leave a legacy of safe communites and vows that Tampa Bay is a no tolerance zone for the exploitation of all forms of human trafficking.

Groover-Skipper becomes the 211th Lightning Community Hero since Jeff and Penny Vinik introduced the program in 2011-12 with a $10 million, five-season commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Through this evening’s game, in total, the Lightning Foundation has granted $10.7 million to more than 300 different non-profits in the Greater Tampa Bay area.

We love hearing volunteer stories!

Anthony Rizzo applied with The Salvation Army in St. Petersburg, Florida to volunteer with children in our homeless shelter. Anthony comes from Long Island, New York and works full-time for Bright Horizons Family Solutions as a teacher and community service liaison. He wanted to volunteer with our children on his only day off and the weekends.

Anthony was an immediate hit! He arrived with anticipation, enthusiasm, and bags full of crafts, books, and activities. He volunteered with our children while their mothers attended morning workshops and with children of families waiting to register for Christmas assistance. He planned and coordinated monthly activities including a barbeque and holiday activities for shelter mothers and children.

Anthony’s company establishes not-for-profit Bright Spaces for children in Shelters — “safe places for children in times of crisis.” Part of our Family Unit is designated a Bright Space but there was very little contact with the establishing center.

Part of Anthony’s job is to reconnect the establishing centers with the Bright Spaces they create in community shelters. Anthony did that for us! He made it come alive again with child care volunteers and enrichment programs. He is implementing his company’s “All Star Volunteer Program” which allows center employees to come once a month for selected activities.

Anthony began his career in child care with Boys & Girls Club in 1996. He has worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters and has been with Bright Horizons for 9 years. Anthony is single and loves to travel. “I like to be behind the scenes. I do these things because I love children and love to do what I am doing.”

One person can make an extraordinary difference and Anthony Rizzo has done so for us in a very short time.

This post was contributed by Dulcinea Cuellar, Divisional Director of Public Relations, Development at The Salvation Army Florida Divisional Headquarters

Julie Shematz was accustomed to using her body to make money. Being exploited was a way of life for her for several years.

Formerly an exotic dancer, Shematz is now the director of social services for The Salvation Army in Tampa. Today she helps other women, men and children find a way out of being trafficked and exploited.

Her story of exploitation, starting over and becoming a woman who helps others rebuild their lives is a story of God’s grace and redemption, she said.

Human trafficking is a story not everyone wants to hear or talk about.

Experts believe just talking about the problem is not enough and are calling for serious action in Tampa and around the globe.

An opportunity for hard conversations about human trafficking began when President Barack Obama designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in 2012. The designation brings awareness and urges all Americans to “help healthcare workers, airline flight crews, and other professionals better identify and provide assistance to victims of trafficking.” Additionally, the designation promises that the government will “combat human trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators, and help victims recover and rebuild their lives.”

In Florida, The Salvation Army, along with its partners, have hosted a series of workshops and summits all over the state to bring awareness to human trafficking.

There are more than 21 million people enslaved in the world today – more than at any other time in history. Human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar a year industry. It generates more revenue than Apple, Ford and Exxon annually.

Florida ranks number three in the nation for the amount of calls into the National Human Trafficking Hotline number. The hotline provides confidential counseling and helps to link victims and survivors with legal and social assistance.

Experts suggest the high volume of calls to the hotline is attributed to several things: the Interstate 4 corridor which connects east and west Florida, professional sports teams and a booming tourist industry. Tampa also hosts one the largest “adult” entertainment industries in the nation, which makes the state the “perfect storm” for traffickers and their victims.

Sex trafficking exists at legal establishments like strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors. Illegal brothels and street prostitution can also traffick individuals.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are more adult entertainment facilities than McDonald’s in the Tampa Bay area.

For people like Shematz, the numbers are no deterrent, as she is always motivated to help the next person find freedom and a new life, she said.

Shematz runs and operates one of the few safe houses in the area.

Running a safe house at a confidential location means providing more than a safe place – it provides an environment that is cozy, comfortable and conducive to restoration. The walls are decorated with inspirational messages, beds are attractively made, and the space feels welcoming, not institutional.

Since it opened last year, 28 people, including five men, have stayed at the shelter. The shelter is designed as an initial safe place available to clients before they move to a more long-term location.

Law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security officials, judges and community members refer trafficking victims to Shematz at The Salvation Army. Oftentimes, law enforcement will find people they suspect of being trafficking victims on the streets or in illicit businesses.

The safe house’s structure is transitional. It is meant to be a temporary solution – getting survivors off the streets and away from their trafficker. After being in a the safe house, clients work with case workers help survivors make a plan for the longer-term. The next step may be moving out on their own into apartments, rehabilitation programs or other shelters.

For Mary* (not her real name), a 32 year-old mother, meeting Shematz was a blessing.

A Tampa police officer found Mary and learned she was sometimes homeless and being exploited by a boyfriend. She was referred to Shematz and stayed in the safe house for a couple of months before transitioning into a more stable environment. The safe house may be temporary, but the support is unconditional.

“This place has been a real blessing,” Mary said. “I’m not sure what I would have done without it.”
The Salvation Army works with a network of community partners to help individuals are able to get temporary shelter and more long-term services and care when they are ready.

Shematz works closely with the Tampa Police Department, the Department of Homeland Security, FREE: The Slavery Survival Network of over 100 community partners, and, of course, other facilities of The Salvation Army to provide clients the best resources available.

Dotti Groover-Skipper is The Salvation Army’s state-wide coordinator of anti-trafficking efforts. She encourages the development of strong practices in awareness and direct service efforts. She also serves on the Florida Legislative Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, an appointment made by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Groover-Skipper first became concerned about trafficking after encountering young women and girls who had been sexually exploited when she was an NFL cheerleader.

And although sexual trafficking may seem to be a more high-profile topic, she notes that labor trafficking is more prolific than sexual trafficking.

Labor traffickers force people to work against their will in many different industries and use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion. Victims of labor trafficking frequently work long hours for little or no pay and believe they have no other choice, but to continue working for that employer.

Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 14.2 million people trapped in forced labor in industries including agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing.

Less common is trafficking in human organs.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 10,000 sales of human organs are made each year. The practice is illegal in nearly every nation, including the United States.

Organ trafficking is a crime that occurs when traffickers force or deceive their victims into giving up an organ. In addition, there are instances where vulnerable persons are treated for an ailment, which may or may not exist, and organs are removed without the victim’s consent or knowledge. Those who are most likely to be victims of organ trafficking are the poor, migrant workers, homeless and the illiterate.