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Community Conversation With Dawn Tongish: Meet Katie Pedigo, executive director of New Friends New Life, an organization that transforms formerly trafficked teen girls and sexually exploited women and their children. Pedigo, with nearly two decades of management and strategic planning experience has a passion for human rights and helping others. With a law degree from SMU, she began her career in the home care industry in human resources and then moved to the nonprofit sector.

In 2007, Pedigo was named the founding executive director of Encompass Cares, a group which raises funds and distributes grants for medical missions and community assistance for employees undergoing hardship. Pedigo believes that being a good corporate citizen builds loyalty, consumer trust is overall the "right thing to do." Pedigo serves on many nonprofit orgranizations and in 2009 was named a "Hero for Children" by the Texas Education Commission. We wanted to know more about New Friends New Life what drives this thoughtful leader and Pedigo was kind enough to answer a few questions. 

Dawn Tongish: Can you tell us about New Friends New Life. 

Katie Pedigo: Mission Statement: New Friends New Life restores and empowers formerly trafficked teen girls and sexually exploited women and their children. Programs: By providing access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support, New Friends New Life helps women and their children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty and limited opportunities. 

History:  In 1998, a women’s committee from a local church began helping a woman, named Amy, looking to get out of exotic dancing. The committee offered financial assistance and access to other services. More and more women who wanted to leave the sex trafficking industry began to contact them.  As more women came forward seeking help, the program grew to become its own organization in 2000. And by 2007 the organization became known as New Friends New Life. In its first five years the staff and volunteers helped and offered assistance to 87 women.

Today:  The organization has developed to the point that it now provides counseling and casework management for women and their children, childcare and child education programs for children of members, and a therapeutic prevention program involving sexual abuse recovery at the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Centers, including the Letot Girls’ Center. New Friends New Life partners with a number of businesses and organizations to help members take control of their lives and have a bright outlook for their futures.  In 2014, New Friends New Life served more than 1,100  women and their children and teens.

DT: What are your duties at New Friends New Life? 

KP: As Executive Director, I direct and lead New Friends New Life.  This includes developing strategy with goals and objectives that enables New Friends New Life to fulfill the mission set forth by the Board of Directors.  My main responsibilities include marketing and public relations, program planning, development and evaluation, financial management, legal compliance, board, donor and volunteer relations.

DT: How did you become involved with New Friends New Life, and why are you so passionate about the work being done?  

KP: After receiving my law degree from SMU, I sought to work human rights law but could not find a place in Dallas to do so.  After many years of practicing, God lead me to New Friends New Life.  It is clear that human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery and the human rights issue of our time.  New Friends New Life seeks justice for the vulnerable and oppressed.  Now that is something to be passionate about. 

DT: Many people may not realize that child trafficking is a significant problem in North Texas. Most believe it only happens across the border or overseas. How do you explain the scope of the problem right here at home? 

KP: Every year, millions of men, women and children worldwide are involved in human trafficking.  In the United States, an estimated 300,000 children are at high risk for being lured with false promises and manipulated by people they trust.  These children are forced and coerced into the  commercial sex industry.  Texas ranks 2nd in the country for the most human trafficking. The Dallas sex trade is annually a $99 million crime. In Dallas, women controlled by traffickers are typically forced to make $1,000 per day and are beaten or suffer witnessing beatings if they cannot provide that amount. 

DT: Who are the most vulnerable children? 

KP: The average age an American girl enters the sex trade is 13 years old.  96% of trafficked teens have been physically abused, 93% sexually abused, 87% abandoned, 80% run away from troubled homes.  Within 48 hours of being on the street, sex traffickers will approach a runaway teen.  There are an estimated 400 trafficked teens on the street each night in Dallas. 

DT: What can the average person do to be part of the solution and help bring an end to this travesty against children? 

KP: Domestic sex trafficking is in every corner of our city.  It is everyone’s responsibility to reject exploitation, which is the key to ending the trafficking of American women and girls. We ask the community to get involved!  Help raise awareness.  Help by financially supporting the holistic, transformational work of New Friends New Life.  Help advocate to our legislators, city leaders and law enforcement by letting them know this is a problem we care about and will not tolerate.  Volunteer time and professional resources to help a teen girl, exploited woman and her children overcome the barriers to success.

DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experience at New Friends New Life? 

KP: New Friends New Life is about children – breaking the generational cycle of abuse and trauma that leads young girls to be hopeless, fearful and enslaved.  82% of the women in our program have on average 2 children, at the average age of 8 years old.  My most memorable moment was unveiling a new, furnished home to a woman with her two children.  Knowing that the woman was completing a long transformational process from being trafficked and imprisoned to now having a livable wage job and her children in exceptional education placements, I felt like I was witnessing a true miracle.  With every hug, tear and prayer, I witnessed hope, security and freedom return to their eyes.  Not only was the woman’s life changed, her family and her community are forever transformed.

DT: You have an important luncheon and special guest event next year. Can you share those details? 

KP: Kevin Costner will headline 12th Annual WINGS Luncheon, on Friday, April 10, 2015, 11:30 a.m., at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, 300 Reunion Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75207.  The luncheon will feature Costner in an interview format with Producer Gary Cogill; an awards presentation; and an update about the work of New Friends New Life.  Luncheon Chair Ambassador Jeanne Johnson Phillips joins Honorary Co-Chairs Ruth Altshuler and First Lady Laura Bush and incoming Board Chair Nancy Ann Hunt

Sponsorships are available, ranging from 1,750-$50,000.  Individual tickets – if not sold out via sponsorships – will be available beginning Feb. 4 at $175 each.  Contact Kelly Cruse, wings@newfriendsnewlife.org, (214) 965-0935.

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at dtongish@yahoo.com or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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