News Column

Concert event to benefit fight against human trafficking

June 4, 2014

By Laura Williams, The Albany Herald, Ga.

June 04--Human trafficking is often a problem that people imagine happening somewhere else -- not in their own backyard.

But two organizations are working together to try and change that perspective.

SoWeGa Art Performance, based in Sumner, has partnered with ONEless Ministries for a benefit fundraiser June 28 to bring awareness to this issue.

SoWeGa Art Performance, created by Rocky and Dona Duckworth, is an arts school in Sumner which educates young students in music, theater and dance, giving students with these interests a venue in which to pursue and develop their skills. There is no monetary charge for students, but they are required to contribute time to community service projects.

It was Dona's daughter, Riki, who sparked the idea for June's human trafficking benefit.

Husband and wife Chris and Riki Plunkett currently live in Bangkok, Thailand, where Riki is a teacher at the American School of Bangkok. Also living in Bangkok: Riki's childhood friend, Cortney Bartemus, who created ONEless ministries, based in Nashville.

After watching 2008's "Taken," a film in which Liam Neeson's daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers, Bartemus found that she could not forget the haunting images in the film, and realized that she wanted to do something about these harsh realities of the world. From that idea, ONEless Ministries was born in 2010, and now has branches in Nashville, Uganda, Brazil, and Bangkok. The organization has a safe haven in each of these places, a home where victims of human trafficking can come after they are rescued and receive psychiatric and legal counseling, help in finding jobs, and support for rebuilding their lives again.

Bartemus currently spends her Wednesday nights in Bangkok visiting the red light district, speaking and talking with young women caught in the net of human trafficking, and tries to offer them hope for their situation.

More information about the organization can be found on their website at

At her daughter's suggestion, Duckworth and SoWeGa Art decided to make this year's concert one that would reach beyond themselves, and help raise awareness on an issue that affect more than just those on the other side of the world.

"The kids immediately said yes to the idea," said Duckworth. "They recognize that this is an issue we all need to do something about."

With recent busts for human trafficking in both Savannah and Atlanta, this issue is not one that happens "somewhere else" anymore.

June's benefit will provide a concert by the SoWeGa Art students, and educational information on human trafficking and slavery. Leslie Overby, U.S. Operations Director for ONEless Ministries, will be in attendance to help provide some of this information.

"Our main focus for the benefit is to raise awareness about human trafficking and slavery," said Duckworth, "But we will also provide information on adoption grants, finding homes for orphans, and poverty."

The event will be hosted by WFXL morning show host Kelly D'Ambrosio and "Days of Our Lives" actress Jen Lilley.

Lilley, whose credits include numerous network show appearances, including spots on "Castle" and "Criminal Minds," currently plays resident bad girl Theresa Donovan on the NBC soap opera.

Duckworth, a fan of the show, felt drawn to Lilley, and reached out to her management team.

"I can't explain it, but every time I watched her on screen, I just thought, 'There is something different about this girl. The way she projected herself and delivered her lines -- she just stuck out to me,' " Duckworth recalled. "I looked her up on Google and saw all of the charities that she supports -- it just seemed like a sign."

"So, I thought, 'Why not ask? The worst that can happen is that they will say no.' "

But that was not the case. Within one day of sending an email to Lilley's manager with information about the event, Duckworth received an email saying, "Jen said yes! Hope you have a blessed Easter!"

"Lilley and her team have been so nice to work with, and I'm so glad she is going to be a part of it," Duckworth said.

A raffle will be held at the event for one winner to receive a special meet-and-greet brunch with Lilley, to take place June 29, one day after the event. All proceeds from the raffle will be donated to charity.

"We really just want to use this time to expand outside of our community and reach people around the world," Duckworth said. "A lot of what people can learn is how to spot danger signs, what to do, and how to get help."

Music from Contemporary Christian to Country and Classic will be spotlighted at the concert, produced and performed by SoWeGa Art students.

"They learn everything there is to know about putting on a show," Duckworth said. "They are involved in every aspect of it, and it's a really good learning experience for them."

The concert will take place June 28 at 7 p.m. at the Old Sumner School Building, located at 706 Walnut St. in Sumner. Doors open at 6 p.m., with a preshow at 6:30 p.m.

"The event is free, but we are hoping to raise funds and awareness for this cause." said Duckworth. "This is an event the whole family can enjoy, and hopefully gain some new perspective on this danger."

"It's something that affects everyone, and we need to know how to deal with it."


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Source: Albany Herald (GA)

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