The Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition was a big winner at the third annual Ohio Liberator Awards ceremony, bringing home first place in the student group category.

The Reynoldsburg Youth Human Trafficking Coalition was a big winner at the third annual Ohio Liberator Awards ceremony, bringing home first place in the student group category.

The awards honor individuals or groups involved in the fight against human trafficking. This year's ceremony was held Jan. 19 in Columbus. The Ohio Liberator Awards are sponsored by Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (SOAP), an organization founded by Theresa Flores, a survivor of human trafficking.

Reynoldsburg City Councilman Cornelius McGrady III, who founded the youth coalition more than two years ago, said he was thrilled that "his kids" won first place.

"Like a proud father, I was overwhelmed with joy," he said. "You would have thought the Buckeyes just scored the winning touchdown. But I reminded them that we cannot rest on our laurels, as we have to prepare for next year."

"Hearing our coalition's name being called felt like a loose dream re-imagined into something so magnificent," coalition member and BELL Academy senior Myles Stanley said.

Stanley said his group is fighting the apathy he admits he once had toward human trafficking. He said hearing McGrady speak about the issue during a school assembly "opened my eyes to the dangers of human trafficking."

Other members of the coalition are Noel Boykin, Imnet Arega, Rachel Phillips, Syndi Kidd, Jade Ellzy, Rashead Poindexter, Samerrah Phillips, Leya Teferi, Taylor Crutchfield, Sterling Smith, Cymone Rogers, Juan Broadnax and Joshua Myers.

The youth coalition hosted the second annual Break Every Chain awareness conference in Reynoldsburg Jan. 17. McGrady said involving young people in the fight to bring awareness to the "modern-day slavery" of human trafficking is important because trafficked victims are ages 12 and older.

"With over 3,000 Ohio youth at risk and over 1,000 recruited and trafficked each year, it is important for all students to learn what human trafficking is and who are enablers of human trafficking," he said. "It is the same as (teaching) crossing the street on the green light and not against the red light."

The Break Every Chain conferences have been successful in presenting facts about victims of human trafficking and the progress made in prevention, Stanley said.

"I can say without a doubt that we, as a coalition, have succeeded in bringing awareness to our community," he said.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a report Jan. 26 that outlined efforts to strengthen protections for victims and create stiffer penalties for traffickers.

According to the report, law enforcement agencies in Ohio conducted at least 85 human-trafficking investigations that led to 98 arrests in 2014. The agencies also identified 181 potential human trafficking victims, 113 suspected traffickers and 68 suspected buyers or johns.

The Reynoldsburg youth coalition was the only high school group among the nominees in the student or student organization category for the Ohio Liberator Award. Individuals nominated were Ian Kallay, Wright State University; Kaitlyn Sherry, Ohio State University; and Ashely Wickerham, University of Toledo.

The awards were named for a publication called The Liberator, put out by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. In 1835, Garrison called for the "immediate eradication of slavery and for equal rights to blacks and women."

Other Ohio winners were Celia Williamson, from the University of Toledo in the individual category; Rahab's Heart, Toledo; TARTA, Toledo, in the organization-civic club-church category; Ruth Downing in the volunteer category; Michelle Moore in the survivor category; and Kallay, who was named Liberator of the Year.