“My light bulb moment came in a college class titled ‘Human Trafficking in America’. The professor compared pennies to victims of human trafficking. Just as pennies are stepped on and stepped over, so are victims of human trafficking. We don’t see pennies because they have no value. They are in couch cushions and one the ground. They are left on gas station countertops to take one if we need one, we leave it if we don’t. These copper coins represent the millions of victims across the globe. I pick up every penny I find and pray for God to picture one of his people in captivity and free them.
I was getting my masters degree in counseling and wanted to help girls rescued from trafficking. I got an internship with A21, an international organization that globally fights human trafficking and sexual exploitation. I went to Greece with them and that changed my life. After the girls were rescued, their next human contact was us. We were on the front lines of receiving them and my job was to put love and hope back into them. They did not trust us because they had signed up to be a waitress or a housekeeper and the last time they were taken into a random house they were beaten and raped and sold into trafficking. The girls were fully aware something was not right and they did not want to be there. Love and connection are powerful, some of the girls had never experienced that. We got to love them back to life.
I came back home to Gulf Shores and got a penny tattoo, but I wanted to do more. I didn’t have a platform to speak, but I couldn’t go to sleep at night and see those girls and just leave them behind. We strip them of their humanity and dignity and use them and have sex with them. Doing nothing was not an option. I started The Penny Story and stamped the word ‘worthy’ onto pennies to signify girls have worth no matter what society says. I made those pennies into bracelets and started selling them to family and friends, forcing everyone I knew to buy them. I sent the money back to A21. It wasn’t much at first, but it was what I could do. I am a small fish in a small pond and prayed to God to give the penny a voice louder than mine. A Christian singer Kari Jobe tours internationally found us and told her millions of her friends about The Penny Story. She took us from a few sales from friends to girls all over the country buying it. We have sold more than 30,000 bracelets so far. I hope these bracelets spark conversation because that awareness is where change begins. I hope people never see a penny the same again.
I have brought my love for counseling into the Penny Story to counsel everyday girls. You don’t have to be trafficked to feel invisible or forgotten. Girls in middle school, high school, and college feel that all of the time. It is an in-depth mentorship process and I work with them one-on-one to restore their worth and value. We have sessions, we text, and contact through Marco Polo. They can contact me any time when they need someone to support or advice them. I am in between a therapist and a best friend. Girls are hungry for attention, even if they come from great families.
No matter how small or insignificant you may feel, you have the power to change and influence your friends, family, or co-workers, so many people around you. I am about to have a boy. I always wanted girls and thought I was a girl mom, but now I realize I get to help raise up a boy who will become a man who respects and understands women and see the people around him. There is evil in the world, but there is so much good. I still have hope that we can be better to each other.”
This is the story of Kendall Phillips and The Penny Story from “Victims Find Help and Hope After Sexual Trafficking,” the final story in the series “Sexual Slavery in South Alabama.” It is available in the Lagniappe this week and online at www.LagniappeMobile.com.
Here is the link to The Penny Story.