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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Jan. 6, 2020 6 months ago

Seabreeze High School student aims to raise awareness about human trafficking

Meet the high school junior who has decided she doesn't need to wait until she 'grows up' to make a difference.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

A dress. A bowtie. A purple ribbon.

Those are three things Seabreeze High School junior Taylor Olsen will be advocating students to wear this month in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness month. They're more than just clothing or accessories; they're symbols of freedom and dignity for victims, Olsen said. 

Less than a year ago, human trafficking was a foreign concept for Olsen, who like many, was aware of it being a global threat but hadn't considered it could happen in her community. One night in March, as she worked on an assignment for her Spanish class, Olsen came across a TED Talk on human trafficking. After watching it, she approached her teachers and told them she wanted to do something. 

In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 767 cases in Florida.

“The fact that it happens so close to us and people don’t really talk about it that often just kind of surprised me because I feel like as citizens we should be more involved in stuff like this — especially if we have the power to help," Olsen said.

With the support of the Junior League of Daytona Beach, Olsen decided to raise money for the Dressember Foundation by hosting a tea at Oceanside Country Club on Saturday, Jan. 4. The Dressember Foundation advocates for women and men to wear dresses or ties during December to raise awareness about modern day slavery.

Sparking the conversation

Mayor Bill Partington, Taylor Olsen and City Commissioner Susan Persis at the Dressember Tea on Jan. 4. Courtesy photo

The tea was a fundraiser that took months of preparations, and was attended by about 60.

Back in July 2019, Olsen met with her former elementary school principal Susan Persis, who now serves on the Ormond Beach City Commission. Olsen mentioned her ideas and Persis gave her tips on how to organize a fundraiser and who to contact.

Olsen was always a good student, Persis recalled. Seeing her want to help other people and believe in a cause, Persis continued, is a good indicator that Olsen will be a contributing member of our society.

“I’m just very proud of her." Persis said. "I’m just beaming, really, because of the initiative that she’s undertaken.”

People may not want to think about human trafficking happening in their community, Persis added, but it does. No city is immune. She believes sparking the conversation to make sure communities are actively working to prevent it is a good place to start.

Fundraisers like this also go beyond the organizations. Persis said it also shows students they can help others.

“Even as an eleventh grade student, she has the power to help, and I think that’s crucial,” Persis said.

Raising awareness at Seabreeze

In addition to the tea, Olsen has also started a club at Seabreeze: Students Against Human Trafficking. 

The club has grown to around 20 members, Olsen said, and during the month of January after school is back in session, the club will be selling purple ribbons for $1. All proceeds will be donated to the Dressember Foundation.

Taylor Olsen with her parents John and Carol at the Dressember Tea on Jan. 4. Courtesy photo

“Even something as small as that and just being aware of it, means so much, because in the future when we build this up even more, we can start doing more about it," said Olsen, who hopes to one day be a policymaker or start an organization that aids with human rights issues.

She hopes the purple ribbons will be a conversation starter for her fellow students at Seabreeze, and that they will want to know more and ask questions.  

"I just really want them to know that this is something that they should be paying attention to, and that they do have the power to do something," Olsen said. "That they don’t have to be city officials or politicians to do anything, that if you are just a student who wants to try hard enough, you can really make a difference.”

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