For nine years, Jessica Evans worked as a Kindergarten and First Grade teacher at Pike Township. Some of her students came from hard backgrounds, which pushed her to create a classroom to be a safe haven. This United Way ELEVATE finalist for Nonprofit Professional of the Year is not the kind to see an issue and say or do nothing. Her actions there were actually a gateway to her calling—she just didn’t know it yet.
While still teaching, Evans learned about human trafficking on a trip to Nepal. Hearing the stories of victims, she couldn’t help but think: “These are girls just like me!” As she settled back in Central Indiana, the stories lingered in her mind and she knew she had to act.
In 2008, Evans hatched plans for a human trafficking awareness concert at her church, Common Ground. She rallied a committee to help her put on the show, called Purchased, and afterwards they all asked, What’s next? What was intended to be a one-time event begged to become something more.
When Evans began advocating for human trafficking victims, she didn’t feel like a leader. She fought it at first. Still, she had what she felt was a calling so she forged ahead and took scary steps to achieve her vision. Evans spent the next year turning Purchased the concert into Purchased, Inc. the nonprofit.
Evans says the organization grew slowly and organically at first, as she brought in friends for volunteer support. Initially, Purchased focused on education and awareness about human trafficking while raising funds for victims elsewhere.
Then the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis, and the issue landed right at her doorstep, as it is considered to be the largest trafficking event in the United States each year. Evans said: “Until you meet someone who has been trafficked, it’s hard to fully understand the issue. Proximity makes a huge difference. Suddenly you see the depth and humanity. These people live in our community, too.”
Local organizations like Indiana Task Force and IPATH offered case management, recovery and therapy for human trafficking victims. No one was dedicated, however, to the prevention side, and Purchased began to fill that gap ahead of the Super Bowl.
Eventually, Evans transitioned to a full-time Executive Director and hired a small staff. As the organization has grown, so to have its programs. They have now added a unique mentorship program. Victims of human trafficking often live transient lives. Pairing them with a mentor means they always a person they can turn to when they need support. Many have not experienced a stable, positive relationship before.
Her view of leadership has changed dramatically during the journey. Before, she thought a leader must be the person who is outspoken and stands in front of a crowd easily. After that first concert, she realized there were people rallied around her, looking at her as the leader—even though she felt she didn’t fit her perception of how a leader behaves.
Evans has flipped her thinking and learned to embrace her role. Her recipe for success? “Draw on your community. Admit you don’t know everything. That makes it easier to ask for help, bring people in, empower them and watch them grow.”
Thanks to Jessica Evans for taking those scary steps to elevate this issue. Central Indiana is safer and smarter for it!