Avondale is partnering with Joy International for the second Barefoot Mile Walk on Saturday, Oct. 2.
Joy International is a worldwide nonprofit organization that aims to rescue, restore and reintegrate children, teens and young adults affected by human trafficking.
The event will be held at Friendship Park in Avondale from 9 a.m. to noon. Registration is free, and participants can attend the walk in person or commit to their own Barefoot Mile Walk away from the crowd. Upon registration, participants are automatically given a website for sponsorships, to collect donations or have others join their team.
According to Joy International, human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the world, making about $150 billion every year. Worldwide, about 2 million children are forced into commercial sex trade per year, with 14,500 to 17,500 of those being from the United States.
“As Christians, it’s our responsibility to go after the least of these, to be a voice for the voiceless and help for the helpless,” said Martha Noday, event coordinator for Arizona.
“We can’t stand by knowing the evil atrocities that are happening to these children and not take action. Partnering with Joy International is one way we get to do our part in serving the word and being light in dark places,” she added about Matthew 25:40, where Jesus said, “Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Joy International was founded in 1981 by Jeff Brodsky in Colorado, who, before becoming a humanitarian, was a professional clown for over 20 years. He traveled the world, mostly to developing nations, to make kids smile. He was invited by Mother Teresa to visit her home for children in Calcutta, India. Throughout his travels as a clown, Brodsky said he saw the terrible conditions children were in, whether of their free will or not. After a heart attack forced him to retire the clown character, he had an epiphany that led to creating the nonprofit Joy International.
“I was just sitting in a car, and I had a Bible open to John 15:11, where it said what Jesus was speaking. He said these words: ‘I speak these things to you so that my joy would be in you and that your joy would be complete.’ That word ‘joy’ really leapt off the pages, and right then is when I came up with the idea of starting an organization called Joy International, and that’s how it was born,” Brodsky said.
Since its inception, Joy International has rescued 2,000 to 3,000 children, teens, young women and boys who were forced to be slaves. Brodsky said in the beginning, they didn’t have a strong focus on sex traffic victims and were just trying to get kids off the streets and advocate for them. However, Brodsky found out there are thousands of organizations who do that, but very few who actually run rescue and rehabilitation programs. After seeing a news report about sex trafficking and doing his own research, he was horrified about the prevalence and severity of the issue.
“I learned about the plight of children and teenagers that were kidnapped or trafficked, sold and forced to be sex slaves,” Brodsky said. “I thought, ‘How could this be happening in our world today?’ I started to research it, and the more I researched it, the more I realized it was worse than when I originally saw on a news report. That’s when there was a change in my thoughts of what the mission of Joy International would be and the concentration of rescuing trafficked children.”
Brodsky was so touched by their plight that he has been barefoot for over 11 years. When he was in Cambodia, he said he saw children completely barefoot in a garbage dump. That same day, he made the decision to live barefoot in solidarity for the poor and trafficked children. Since he started 11 years ago, not a day has gone by where he put on shoes, not even when visiting Alaska, with temperatures below freezing, or when he was in Death Valley, where it’s over 115.
While he has been committed to helping trafficking victims in any way he can, he admits the Barefoot Mile Walk fundraiser was not his idea.
“There was a small youth group in this town in Ohio. After they heard me speak, they said they wanted to do a fundraiser for Joy International, because rescue operations are very expensive,” Brodsky said. “So, they called me and asked, ‘Would it be OK if we did a walk barefoot and called it the Barefoot Mile to raise money for you?’”
He said he thought it was a nice idea, and when the group raised over $13,000, he realized there was something special about it. Since then, the organization has had over 50 Barefoot Mile Walks in several states and cumulatively has raised $1 billion. Last year was Arizona’s first Barefoot Mile Walk, and Noday said it was a success.
“Our first annual walk in Arizona generated $36,000,” she said. “We had 500 people participate last year and are expecting 700 to 1,000 this year. We want to make this an annual tradition. We’d love to give the West Valley community an opportunity to fight against human trafficking and help support local and global resources.”
For this year’s walk, Noday said they are hoping to match or exceed last year’s take. She encouraged local businesses to sponsor a participant or donate. Organizations that donate can receive recognition at the walk, as well as the opportunity to put information about their business into the bags of participants or set up a booth (options depend on the amount donated).