Today we introduce you to an incredible Smarty Mom, Mariangela Rinaldi. She’s a wife, mother of three, and an artist. She’s also an advocate for young women who have been subjects of human trafficking. It’s a grim reality that is right here in our beautiful city – it’s something that needs to be discussed even if it makes us uncomfortable or scared. Her passion for helping these women inspired her latest project, Sketches for Survivors, a charity art event to benefit victims.
We’ll let Mariangela tell you more about the reality of human trafficking, how she got involved in the cause, and what you can do to help.
Smarties, meet Mariangela!
Smarty Mom Mariangela
Hometown: Queens, NY
Years in Charlotte: 11 years
Children: Christopher 12 years, Sofia 10 years, Nicholas 7 years.
Years married: 18 years. Whooorah! It’s hard to believe. Actually, I’ve been so wrapped up in Sketches for Survivors that I forgot it this year. Last week my husband suggested we go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary and I was totally taken off guard. Good thing he has a great sense of humor.
Occupation: I’ve often answered this question by saying – My first career was Strategic Planning (helping businesses match their use of corporate real estate with their business objectives), my second career was Mommy to three small children, and I didn’t know what my third career would be. Funny, I think I may be on the verge of figuring that out.
Human trafficking in Charlotte is not something we moms want to think about. Tell us the grim reality of this happening right in our back yards.
North Carolina consistently ranks among the top 10 worst states in America for trafficking, and Charlotte is the top city in NC. The average age of girls entering trafficking is 13 years old.
The reality is this tragedy is a crime that is insidious in our community. The ugly truth is this: the supply is created because the demand is pervasive. Every time a major sporting event, conference or convention occurs in Charlotte, trafficking spikes. Last year during the Wells Fargo Championship alone five cases were opened. The “buyers” are not who you would imagine. They are frequently well dressed, articulate and professional.
What we need to understand is that no little girl says, “When I grow up I want to be a prostitute”. They are forced, coerced, threatened, or blackmailed into commercial sexual exploitation. Many of these girls are attempting to attend high school, and some even college. They can be, but are not necessarily, without stable family. But what they have most in common is precarious youth and a particular vulnerability that is preyed upon.
Tell us how Sketches for Survivors was born. Last spring I viewed the Frontline documentary “Half the Sky”, and my interest in the subject was piqued. I thought, one day I’m going to do something to help girls like these. Not long after I attended a local seminar on Sex Trafficking in Charlotte. As I sat there I felt compelled to approach the speaker and mention that I had this crazy idea of having a little art show as a fundraiser for the cause. I had been sketching the human figure for a few years, my friends often liked my work, I could sell my art to friends, right? That was back in May. Today we have more than a dozen prominent local artists contributing work, 4 local restaurants, sponsors, luxury raffle items, live music, wine, and an expected attendance of approximately 200 people. Tickets are $25 each, and two for $45. They are on sale at www.sketchesforsurvivors.com, click on “buy tickets”.
What can the Charlotte community do to help?
First educate yourself, your children, your neighbors and colleagues. Folks must know this is happening under our noses. There is a wonderful free educational video called “Get Off Your Donkey” that you can view and share. It is produced by the local 501(c)3 Silent Images. The trailer is available at http://vimeo.com/61487530
Now that you know trafficking exists in Charlotte you can learn the warning signs. If you see something that looks suspicious call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
There are many local advocacy groups like: All We Want is L.O.V.E. (Liberation of Victims Everywhere), Compassion to Act, Hope House, and Justice Ministries. Reach out to them, their missions are vast, their needs are broad and you never know how your talents, time, and treasure can help until you inquire.
I am particularly moved by the survivor based organization Market Your Mind, Not Your Body which provides the services survivors need to take back their lives. So many of us have the good fortune of living within a certain socio-economic standing. With that comes access to information, tools, and resources that have helped us achieve our goals. I challenge your readers to take inventory of the skills we take for granted: writing a resume, balancing a checkbook, making a budget, writing a proposal, managing a project, conducting a meeting, creating an invoice, advertising, marketing, etc. These are some of the business skills survivors lack but desperately need to make their personal entrepreneurial dreams a reality. Consider becoming a mentor. It will make all the difference in a young woman’s life.
We want to know more about this amazing woman, Antonia “Neet” Childs and Neet’s Sweets.
Neet speaks of having been a child who always dreamed of having her own bakery. Those dreams were shattered when at the age of 16 she fell victim to a life of human trafficking. Neet had taken a job to help her struggling family when she way preyed upon by a man twice her age. Once caught in the web of commercial sexual exploitation it would be years before she could extricate herself.
It was through the kindness and support of a friend that she ultimately attended a cake decorating class. She soon funneled her passion into a business idea, and in 2008 became a baking entrepreneur in Charlotte. Neet’s Sweets has become more than just a business to Antonia Childs. It’s a movement – her movement to save other young women from a life of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. Proceeds from Neet’s Sweets, Inc. help to provide support to survivors, including counseling, housing referrals, and mentoring. They also offer employment as way to help these women gain work skills in order to begin their own journey towards personal growth, empowerment, and success.
In addition to Neet’s Sweets, Ms. Childs established the 501(c)3 Market Your Mind, Not Your Body. Its mission is to encourage and support survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking by providing resources and services that enable them to overcome their pasts and transform their futures. Market Your Mind provides them the tools they need to turn their lives around. They work with community partners to showcase up and coming businesses, prepare young women for employment, and help them to finance their dreams. Neet’s latest venture is a partnership with Second Helping catering whereby she provides the sweets for sale in their Central Avenue shop.
Thank you so much for informing us – we hope this inspires others to take action! We also want to get to know YOU better…
You are an artist on top of your role as a mother. How have you carried this on to your children? Art has always been the creative outlet that grounded me. When I get in the zone, and totally “right brained”, ah … beautiful things can happen. But let’s face it, who has the time for that?! I mean really, you want me to stop thinking about the carpool, laundry, house chores, errands, etc.?
Then two years ago I went to my first figure drawing class since college. There my first goal was to make the drawing look “human”, then “female”, then “pretty”. I was so excited when I succeed in all three that I came home and pinned up my sketches. Sofia, my daughter then eight, rolled her eyes and demanded, “Really mom, really? Naked people!” Later she would say, “Mom, when are you going to learn to draw clothes?” Today my children encourage me, critique my work and will even tell me when to “stop” and not ruin a piece by overworking it. They see my passion and are happy for me. I think they are even a bit proud of Mom.
What is your favorite thing to do with your family in the fall? Drive up to the mountains and enjoy the beauty of autumn. I also love Halloween – we have a blast with home made costumes.
What is the last meal you cooked? I’m on a veggie kick right now. Sunday night I just grilled burgers (some were beef, some were turkey with garlic and spices) but the table was loaded with “salads”: potato and cucumber salad (with Italian herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil), tomato salad (same dressing plus sliced onions), arugula salad (salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh lemon juice). Then there were the items I knew the kids would actually eat: raw mini carrots, edamame, and canned pork and beans.
Favorite restaurant to take the whole fam?
Lately we are into Pacos Tacos.
The phrase you’ve said to your children more than any other is…
“I love you” but the close second is: “Let’s make a schedule”
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I love to dance to 1940’s big band music and my favorite partner dance is “Swing”.
Best book you’ve ready lately?
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Favorite CSP article?
Impossible to choose. Sorry!
Behavioral trait you hope your kids don’t inherit from you?
Raising my voice.