Present at the press conference to express participation and
support in the Project Runaway were: Toledo Police Chief
George Kral, State Sen. Teresa Fedor; Lucas County
Prosecutor Julia Bates; Lucas County Commissioner Tina
Skeldon Wozniak; UT Professor Celia Williamson; Judge Connie
Zemmelman, Lucas County Court of Common Pleas; Patrick McColley, Ohio
Department of Transportation; John DeBruyne, RESCUE
president; Kevin Dalton,
Toledo Federation of Teachers and
John Henry, OBS Financial,
President/CEO and D.A.R.T board facilitator.
The plan, as Tharp described, is to raise enough funding to
bring on six retired police officers, who already have the
experience and the expertise to search for runaways and
bring them back home. Once home, the appropriate agencies,
such as RESCUE, among others, are ready to provide the
long-term services to work with the kids.
“Agencies have said that if we can get these children back
to Lucas County, we can find out why they are leaving,” said
Tharp. According to researchers, he added, runaway and
homeless youth are 2.5 times more likely to get molested or
get addicted if they are away from home for two weeks or
With the funding that has been provided already to the
Project, five retired police officers have been brought on
board – one more will complete the goal set by the
collaborative, said Tharpe.
Celia Williamson, whose work was cited by many speakers at
the press conference as the inspiration for the
collaborative effort, also took a turn at the podium.
Named one of the top 30 most influential social workers
alive today, distinguished professor, Williamson has over 25
years of anti-trafficking experience. She is a professor of
social work at the University of Toledo where she has
received 13 years of federal and state funding to study sex
trafficking and prostitution and hosts the oldest and
largest international academic human trafficking conference
in the world.
“You have to go where the risk is and make a significant
difference there,” she said.
She applauded the various member groups of the collaborative
and their cooperative spirit.
“Everyone said ‘yes,’” she said. “We always had the
willingness – we just needed the coordination. Everyone is
coming together to say this is important – we love our
children … go find them and link them up to long-term
The keys to success of Project runaway, noted the various
representatives of the collaborating agencies, are finding
Toledo-area runaway kids in their various locations around
the country, bringing them back to this area and getting
them into the appropriate programs that can deal with why
they left – family situations, abuse, foster family
troubles, for example – and work out the difficulties they
have encountered since leaving – abuse, trafficking,
Robin Reese, executive director of Lucas County children
Services will of course be one of those individuals who will
be deeply involved in this program.
“We take protecting our children seriously,” she said. “This
leadership – we are going to lead the nation in prevention.
This is what we do in Lucas County, we came together to