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Federal Way Mirror announces April Citizen of the Month

Brenda Oliver, founder of Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking, is the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for April.  - Carrie Rodriguez, The Mirror
Brenda Oliver, founder of Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking, is the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for April.
— image credit: Carrie Rodriguez, The Mirror

Long-time Federal Way resident Brenda Oliver had long conversations with James Childs about his daughter, Danica, who went missing in 2007.

Childs had mentored Oliver’s son in basketball and their kids knew each other. Then, Childs was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“I just remember long conversations with him and just trying to give him some hope and just encouraging him that we would never give up looking for Danica,” Oliver recalled. “It just laid heavy on my heart.”

Oliver later met Danica’s mother, Dianne Zoro, at Childs’s funeral. She learned that Danica was a victim of sex trafficking and so began her journey of advocating for victims.

“I think like many people, I just thought there’s no way this is happening in our country,” she said. “I mean, I grew up here. We knew about it in Third World countries or across borders. So Danica is truly the reason I got involved in human trafficking because as I did more research I realized, wow, we have an issue right here in our own country.”

The founder of Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking (FWCAT), Oliver is the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for April.

Federal Way resident Karen Brugato nominated Oliver for her years of dedication to girls in need.

“She has worked tirelessly toward this cause bringing the organization up from nothing,” Brugato said. “Really grass-roots stuff. She has worked not only to bring the organization into the Federal Way Public Schools with the ‘engage’ curriculum but has supported legislation in Olympia and has the support of our Federal Way Police.”

Brugato added when Oliver first approached Advancing Leadership (AL) 2013 for help, “she was so moving in her presentation and so without resources to further her cause. All she wanted was funds for marketing materials and a computer.

AL gave her a marketing plan for the “Break the Chains” walk, which gathered $10,000 the first year. The second annual walk is set for May 17 at the Farmer’s Market.

“Oh, it makes me want to cry,” said Oliver of the nomination, who was on her way out her front door to attend a FWCAT meeting on Tuesday night.

She said she was humbled by the recognition and stressed that she couldn’t do this work without the many volunteers who have helped, including Zoro.

“I have not done any of this single-handedly,” she said. “It pulls at the heart strings and we want to see an end to it.”

Oliver founded FWCAT after she attended a conference and met Liz Drake, who is currently the principal at Thomas Jefferson High School.

One of Drake’s teachers said “we realize there’s an issue in Federal Way, we’re seeing it in our high school,” Oliver recalled. So Oliver and other volunteers held a meeting and invited city officials, police, state representatives and they discussed what the community could do to combat human trafficking.

She said FWCAT’s goal is to prevent human trafficking through education. The organization offers a three-day program in the schools called “Deceptions.” Volunteers speak with middle school and high school students about the pros and cons of social media and keeping posts private.

“Don’t put everything out there because groomers and traffickers use that information,” she noted.

Oliver said she is motivated the most by the students FWCAT teaches. One defining moment involved an eighth grade boy who had questions during the presentation.

“He came up afterwards and he said, you know, I used to think pimps had a lot of swag,” Oliver said. “But he said after today I realize they just abuse human beings. So here’s an eighth grade boy and he got it.”

For more information, visit www.fwcat.org

The Mirror's Citizen of the Month is sponsored by Jimmy Macs Roadhouse. To nominate a Federal Way resident, email editor@fedwaymirror.com Please include the person's full name, contact information and reason why you think that person should be selected.

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