Freedom Run to focus on combating human trafficking

Tony Casey • Dec 3, 2013 at 9:39 AM

On Dec. 21, the third annual Freedom Run 5k will be held at the Wellness Center in Johnson City at 9 a.m., with profits going to fight human trafficking both near and far away. There will also be a one-mile dog walk available to those who want to participate.

As much fun as it will be, this race is also on a mission.

Holly Harris, the race director who has made human trafficking her issue to fight against, said she often finds people who believe it’s only a problem that happens halfway across the globe and that the public sometimes overlooks its importance.

At a recent event at Carmike Cinemas, one of the sponsors of the race, Harris said she was talking with a police officer who admitted he didn’t know anything about the topic.

She said it wasn’t a knock against the officer, and that there are many causes to get behind, but people are surprised to hear how close to home human trafficking hits.

Sex trafficking is one of the causes of human trafficking across the globe, with the majority of victims coming from the 18-24 age range and 95 percent of victims being physically or sexually abused during their trafficking, numbers from the United Nations said. On a regional level, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has a hotline for callers with potential tips on cases of human trafficking. In their most recently completed report, from Jan. 1 through the end of June, the center had 140 calls from Tennessee.

The NHTRC’s data breakdown of that report shows that the vast majority of serious cases were related to sexual trafficking, and a map showing where the calls came from shows several were made from locations in the Johnson City and Kingsport areas.

Harris hopes the race will help educate the public on human trafficking and drum up support in fighting it. She said 100 percent of the race fees, as well as all sponsorship monies from runners, will go directly to the cause.

The focus of the race is to serve as a fundraiser for the Freedom Climb, a ministry of Operation Mobilization. It’s an international Christian mission group, looking to spread its word across the globe, which aims to support projects focused on at-risk women and children — those who are exploited, enslaved, oppressed and trafficked.

A fundraiser will be held for Operation Mobilization at Chili’s in Johnson City on Wednesday, from 4-9 p.m.

For the course, Harris said the 5k will start and finish at the Wellness Center after going out and back on the path next to State of Franklin Road with the one-mile dog walk going off at the same time. Because it runs on the path, Harris was able to save money by hiring law enforcement to marshal the course, and she says she’s been able to cut out the middlemen, so more goes directly to Freedom Climb.

There will be prizes for the overall winners, top fundraisers, and best-dressed Santas and animals. The grand prize for the top fundraiser will be two tickets to a Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The cost for the event is $30 for the 5k and $20 for the dog walk, but if any participants are able to raise more than $50 for the Freedom Climb, they can save $10 from their entry fee.

Course records are held by Josh Mermilliod, who won in 17:52, in 2011, and Susan Rollins, who set the women’s mark of 20:18 in the race’s inaugural year.

Harris is hoping to make this race a staple in the Tri-Cities running community. In the first year, Harris said she raised about $10,000, and about $7,500 in last year’s event.

This year, she said the hope is to get about 300 people to come out and participate.For more information, check out the event’s website at www.freedomrunjc.weebly.com or email Harris at harrisholly48@gmail.com.

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