top of page

RRCAHT History

How Did RRCAHT Begin?

by Phyllis Tierney, SSJ


How did RRCAHT begin? Like many other groups it began when a particular event brought together a group of people who were already interested and working in their respective areas to educate a segment of their community. For the Sisters of St. Joseph the catalyst was an education day held for the Sisters in the spring of 2012, where the keynote speakers were Kathy Cannon from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Renan Salgado, Human Trafficking Specialist at the Worker Justice Center for New York. Kathy spoke about sex trafficking and Renan spoke about labor trafficking.    


In November of that year, the film "Not My Life," a story of child trafficking directed by Robert Bilheimer, was shown at the Little Theatre. Sister Phyllis met Heidi Ostertag, senior producer of the film and found that she was extremely interested in founding a local group to work on the issue. One of the attendees said that the social ministry group at Temple Sinai under Rabbi Amy Sapowith's leadership was working on it. Sister Phyllis and Rabbi Amy made contact and set up a planning meeting in January with Heidi. The result was a convening of interested persons at the Sisters of St. Joseph Mother house on French Road, Rochester, on March 13, 2013.    


At the end of the day, participants decided to continue meeting in order to further the collective work in combatting trafficking, particularly in the Rochester / Monroe County area. The Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RRCAHT) evolved from this meeting.

The founding members of the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking after they confirmed their intention to network and collaborate in an effort to prevent and address the human rights violation of human trafficking.

How Did RRCAHT Begin?Part II          

by Hannah Murphy, Feminists for Nonviolent Choices and RRCAHT co-secretary    

The formation of the Rochester Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RRCAHT) was quite serendipitous. As Sr. Phyllis Tierney wrote above, many local groups and individuals were working to address issues of human trafficking, but none was aware of the other. It was in the early months of 2013 that the connections that would lead to RRCAHT’s formation began.
In February 2013, Feminists for Nonviolent Choices (FFNVC) was readying our annual human rights series of educational programs. Our topic was Sex Trafficking and our keynote speaker was Laura Lederer, former Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) for U.S Department of State. Our series included a WXXI interview, talks at Nazareth College and Rochester Institute of Technology, a screening of Not My Life at the Little Theatre, and a call-to-action luncheon at the Susan B. Anthony Carriage House (SBAH). As the director of Special Projects and Events, I reached out to Donna Ecker, director of Bethany House, a women’s shelter, knowing she would have contact with TIP victims and survivors. She told me about Phyllis Tierney, a Sister of St. Joseph who was also working on human trafficking.
I contacted Phyllis and she invited me join her and others for a meeting at the Motherhouse on March 13th, 2013 to discuss how best to address human trafficking locally. There were probably just ten of us around the table that day, but we were eager to begin working together, and determined there were others in the community who would join us. 
FFNVC’s March 20th screening of Not My Life was a sold-out event. The film’s producer, Robert Bilheimer, joined Laura Lederer for a Q&A following the film. You could feel the energy from the audience—they had so many questions, so many ideas. Following the event, I was approached by many local agencies that wanted to connect, including Melanie Blow of Prevent Child Abuse NY and Cheryl Bianchi of Eastside Psychotherapy Associates. On March 23rd, Laura Lederer and outreach worker, Jennifer Wolfley, spoke to a jam-packed room at the SBAH luncheon. In attendance were community leaders and agencies involved in TIP prevention. On that afternoon, we signed our names to a list that would become the founding members of RRCAHT.
On April 4th, 2013, we gathered once again at the Motherhouse. It was on this day that we confirmed our intention to network and collaborate in an effort to prevent and address the human rights violation of human trafficking. We signed our names to two important documents: the first, a petition in support of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA), and the second, a roster of the founding members of Rochester’s first anti-trafficking network.


The founding members of RRCAHT include Rabbi Amy Sapowith of Temple Sinai; Renee Minarik; Peg Billyard of Workers Justice Center; NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) director, Kathy Cannon; Heidi Ostertag, producer of Not My Life; Lauren VanCott and Mary Jo Colligan from Angels of Mercy; Miriam Miranda-Jurado and Cynthia and Tom Sorbera of Calvary Community Church; Jill Cheetham; Michele March; Brooke Dubler; Elisabeth Celso; Lindsay Trahan of Love 146; Lindsey Merchant of Hillside Family of Agencies; Nolica Murray-Fields, Ulandas Morrison and Valerie Douglas of Center for Youth; Cheryl Bianchi of Eastside Psychotherapy Associates; Melanie Blow of Prevent Child Abuse NY; Amy Smith; Bertha Simpkins from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; Sean and Jessica Wrench of Forsaken Generation; Phyllis Tierney of Sisters of St. Joseph; and Hannah Murphy of Feminists for Nonviolent Choices.


We were a coalition.

To continue reading our history, go to our Past Events Page.

bottom of page