The Tennessean: End Slavery TN wins big, saves lives with Big Payback

The 2014 Big Payback, a 24-hour online giving challenge, was a lifesaver for End Slavery Tennessee — literally.

With more than $36,000 of donations and prizes, it was the top earning small nonprofit organization in the campaign. The result meant help for even more survivors of human trafficking in Middle Tennessee.

"We had so many new referrals," said CEO Derri Smith, "and you never want to say 'no.'

"We have a tremendous base of supporters and volunteers. It's really thanks to them spreading the word to their circle of influence."

Smith left office manager Laura Courtney in charge of the project. She created a handful of "tickets" with the slogan "six for six."

"The idea was to get six friends to donate on May 6," the date of the Big Payback, Smith said. "And it started at 6 a.m."

And it worked. The organization received a prize from the Community Foundation, which runs the Big Payback, for the most money earned in the 6-9 a.m. block.

It also received donations from 89 new donors, many of whom "have become involved in groups, and a couple became board members," Courtney said.

End Slavery went off last year’s graphic, pictured, to come up with this year’s Big Payback slogan: #ShineALight.

This year's efforts are more personal, using #ShineALight.

"We've been sharing stories about our survivors on our Facebook page, with code names of course," Courtney said.

The stories are short glimpses into the girls' lives, from being sold by their parents for drugs, to graduating from college as a survivor.

Due to the success of last year's Big Payback, this year the organization hopes to reach $40,000 to go toward its new safe house, which is set to begin operating in May.

The home will provide a place to stay for four survivors just after being referred until they heal and are placed in a more permanent residence.

"We'll get new referrals and scramble to find a good place," Smith said. "Putting them in a hotel triggers memories, domestic violence shelters don't work well with this population. ... They've been under tight control and the last thing they want is to be in a place where they feel that way again."

The Big Payback begins at midnight May 5 at thebigpayback.org.