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'I was going to die' | Delta program gives human trafficking survivors a fresh start

The Atlanta-based airline partners with a non-profit to give survivors training, and sometimes jobs, at Delta.

ATLANTA — “I know in my heart that staying in Florida wasn’t going to be an option. I was going to die.”

That’s how Jessica remembers her life before she participated in Delta’s survivor apprenticeship program.   

“The day that it changed was the day Ms. Andrea (a Wellspring Living employee) picked me up and I was able to go into the program unpack my stuff and find my room,” said Jessica. “And that was my room where I was going to be for the next 18 months and it was the beginning of a whole new life.”

Jessica was able to leave her old life behind and find a new one in Atlanta with the help of a Delta flight attendant. The flight attendant reached out to Wellspring, an Atlanta-based non-profit organization that helps transition trafficking survivors back to normal lives.

“Before I took this on, I was really, really naïve,” said Alison Ausband, Senior Vice President for Delta’s-Flight Service. “Survivors. What they go through. What happens and when you are freed, you’re really not freed.” 

Ausband was instrumental in helping launch the Delta survivor apprenticeship program, which Jessica was a part of. The program started more than a year ago.

Delta works with Wellspring to get survivors on-the-job training with the airline. They work in departments from marketing to human resources. Their co-workers never know they are trafficking survivors; they simply know them as colleagues.

“They opened their arms to work with us to help our young women,” said Mary Frances Bowley with Wellspring Living. “To find a way to build more career skills and build their resume so they can move towards living wage employment.”

RELATED: Changing fates: On Delta flights, trained crews search for human trafficking victims

Before the women are placed into the apprenticeship program, they go through months of training that includes continuing education and life skills.

“Just the feeling of acceptance was a feeling I don’t think I’ve ever had,” said Jessica about the program.  

“They’re excited to be treated as a person,Bowley said. ”And I think that’s what we believe is so valuable to our partnership with Delta is they really look at the dignity of the person.”

More: Local brewery makes beer to fight human trafficking

“When I walked into the room and I sat down at my desk there was this beautiful cup with beautiful flowers that said welcome aboard Jessica. We’re happy to have you here,” Jessica recalled.

Delta has had seven people from Wellspring in their survivor apprenticeship program. Two of them have gotten permanent jobs with Delta. The others have also gone on to have professional jobs with other companies.

“It’s giving women chances to have life and have hope,” Jessica said. “It’s changed my life tremendously.”

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