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Featured Business, September 2023 — Freedom Warriors

A Free and Safe World for Children

Freedom Warriors is a local nonprofit organization on a steadfast mission to end the human trafficking of children. The group’s stated mission:

To relentlessly combat human trafficking, by empowering survivors and mobilizing communities, as we strive for a world where freedom triumphs over exploitation.

To be a Freedom Warrior is to be a “beacon of hope for the oppressed, a fierce advocate for justice, and a relentless force against the pervasive crime of human trafficking.”

Unveiling the Invisible Nightmare

Every year, 16 million children are exploited for labor, 4.8 million are sexually exploited, and 4.1 million are forced into state-imposed labor. Every two minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation and human trafficking. This silent catastrophe unfolds around us, yet general awareness remains scant.*

Looking specifically at the United States, the unfortunate truth emerges: our country leads the world in human trafficking.

The Warrior That Gives Back

Enter Maria Cochran, who co-owns several local businesses, including European Wax Centers and SPENGA Tucson, a spin, strength, and yoga fitness concept studio.

“We have been in business in the community for as long as we’ve been in Tucson. For us, the whole idea behind Freedom Warriors is that we want to give back to the community because they’ve supported our businesses.”

“When we opened SPENGA, the whole purpose was that all profits from the sale of our retail would go straight to Freedom Warriors. We aspire to inspire fellow community members and businesses to do the same, championing causes that touch their hearts. This isn’t exclusive to Freedom Warriors; it’s about embracing any noble endeavor.”

A Warrior is Born

One day, Maria’s family went on a trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. This day would lead to a life-changing epiphany.

“We wanted to explore the history of slavery exhibit. We have three children, and we went through three floors of history and reading…

Suddenly we come across a big space with the title ‘Modern Day Slavery’. Immediately, you get drawn to it, because the first thing you see is one of those huge box shipping containers. Then you start reading dates, and names…

So, as we all gravitated toward the exhibit, every single one of us picked an area and we were all kind of spread out…I saw my daughter reading inside one of those wooden boxcars, and I could see her face and the dread… I went over and looked over her shoulder, as she was reading about a person named ‘Maria’.

I realized that it had become personalized. So, I put my hands around her. And then I looked at the rest of my family, my husband, and my boys, and I saw the same look on all their faces…

At that point, my husband and I decided to walk out. We all had tears in our eyes. We were overwhelmed by emotion, by dread…

Everything else kind of fell into place. It was very serendipitous. When we brought it up to our business partners, and team members, everyone said, ‘let’s do this. We’re in.’

So, we immediately committed percentages from our local businesses, and we have businesses in New York and California that also committed annual donations.”

Second Annual Top Golf Fundraiser

On July 30, Freedom Warriors celebrated its second annual Top Golf Fundraiser with a goal of raising $40,000.

“We did not reach our benchmark…but did a bit better than last year…”

“We did achieve our goal in terms of reaching and spreading awareness to the people we aimed for. Raising awareness is our main aim for the community. Our top priority is to get people talking, uniting, and being more aware of this topic. This year, we doubled our event sponsorships, which is a big achievement.”

Partners In the Fight

Local partners include Power Over Predators, a nonprofit that has designed an educational curriculum to help children and adults recognize and prevent potential abuse online and in person.

Another valued partner is the Rancho Milagro Foundation, which provides equine therapy to survivors of human trafficking. Through this partnership, Freedom Warrriors has sponsored three horses. In turn, Rancho Milagro will be able to provide equine therapy for a minimum of 7 people per horse, for a year.

Healthy Horseplay

“One of my most rewarding experiences is volunteering once a month with both Power Over Predators and Rancho Milagro… I’ve been working with the youth group program and the children that come in on the same Saturdays as I am able to attend…

My very first time that I went, there were probably 13-15 children that came in for that day. We were all going around in a circle introducing ourselves, saying our name and favorite animal…and I said I’m from Tucson.

The purpose is to teach the children about healthy relationships. Some are very standoffish. You have to find a way to have positive interactions with them.

Probably the youngest child kept getting an inch closer to me throughout the day, and towards the end, she actually came, stood next to me, and introduced herself. The connection she made is that she is also from Tucson.

What was so powerful in that interaction is that she came over, and said ‘Hi, I’m so and so. I’m from Tucson too, but I was taken from my home because of abuse’.

I can’t really explain how I felt when she bravely reached out to me because of our shared Tucson connection. At first, she seemed a bit distant, but then she started to see if it was safe to connect with me. That was a big moment.”

Afterward, I just knew, “This is where I’m supposed to be.” It felt like our purpose.

Protecting Our Children

“This is why it is so important for us to stand behind organizations that are rescuing and healing children and being proactive with programs that are going to prevent this horrible situation. It is a global criminal enterprise.

Children, the most defenseless individuals in our society, require our protection. We cannot fail our kids anymore.”

By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.Ed

* Estimated by Human Trafficking Institute