Child sex slavery is a huge problem, around the world, in the United States, and in Phoenix, Arizona. Everyday across the globe, thousands of minors, even as young as six months, are being sold as objects of sexual pleasure for the first time. The children are raped, tortured, videotaped, beaten and used in unimaginable ways. Then, the flagrant abuse will be repeated, sometimes as often as 20-30 times a night. For some, ignoring the stories of prostitution of children in far away lands like Cambodia is a normal response. It gets harder to sidestep when evidence points to the same problem in your own backyard.
Members of The Refinery Church in Goodyear, Arizona, learned of the statistics and decided they wanted to take a stand against this outrage that violates the most vulnerable of our families. They wanted to do something big that would help put a dent in the child sex trafficking problem in Phoenix. They partnered with StreetLight Phoenix, a safehouse for recovered survivors of child sex trafficking, with an innovative idea designed to raise awareness in the community of child-rape-for-profit and to raise $20,000 after expenses.
The idea of the First Annual Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament to benefit StreetLight Phoenix was birthed. This event was held on March 26, 2011, and netted over $23,000 after prizes and expenses were paid out. The tournament was hosted by Fort McDowell Casino near Fountain Hills, Arizona, drawing nearly 150 participants. Individuals could sign up to play, and there were several sponsor tiers for families and corporations. Prizes were given for final 15 remaining spots.
Kevin Segal, associate pastor of the Refinery Church and one of the event organizers explains, “The reason for using a poker tournament as a fundraiser for Streetlight is that there has been increased popularity in the sport of Texas Hold-em tournaments as well as good advertising exposure for the sponsors.”
Indeed, the sponsors were greatly pleased with the purpose for the contest and the fact that 100% of the net revenue wuould go directly to StreetLight to aid the children. They were also delighted with the turnout, when other benefit tournaments may only bring in 20-30 players.
Organizer Michael Calens summarized some of the high points of the tournament, “It couldn’t have been more perfect. People knew from the beginning that our goal was to protect children and get them away from child sex slavery.” He continued that now there are more families who will attend an Open House for StreetLight on April 3, the day before it opens for female residents. Every one of the sponsors has contacted him to express their gratitude for the professional and exceptional way the event was handled, and they are all wanting to sign up for next year.
As Michael spoke with potential sponsors and players over the past few months, he touched many hearts by explaining the three-tier approach that StreetLight has taken:
- Awareness (media information, connecting with churches and community agencies to educate members about child sex trafficking
- Prevention (focus on understanding of the issues and changing laws to protect the victims and adequately prosecute the perpetrators)
- Aftercare (housing and care for girls brought out of sex slavery)
Calens spoke poignantly about his role in helping make the tournament a success, “I don’t have words to describe the feelings that I have and had since the start. It doesn’t end here. I made a point of telling everyone that it deosn’t end here (with the poker tournament).”
Apparently, at least one of the Texas Hold ‘Em winners agreed. Matt Segal won $560, and turned around and donated all of it to StreetLight Phoenix.
If you would like to be an Abolitionist to help eradicate child sex slavery like Matt or Michael or Kevin or the thousands of others who declare, “This needs to stop now!”, you can take action, too. Make your donation to StreetLight Phoenix.