Pay it 1964WARD – How one alumna is using her degree to rescue women from human trafficking

Union’s Pay it 1964WARD campaign is underway to make a difference in the lives of our students. At UI&U, 100 percent of funds designated to scholarships goes directly to the student. Throughout 2020, we will feature a number of Union scholarship recipients. Learn how that support fulfilled their educational dreams and helped them become a force for positive change in their communities and the world at large.

At one time, Viann Barnett lived in poverty with her child. “I grew up in a two-person household, but when my father passed, we lost so much. I was hopeless and helpless. I was in a downhill spiral. I lived through many traumatic experiences. I didn’t see a way out for myself or my daughter,” said Barnett. “I didn’t even have a GED.”

But many in her community saw her potential and wouldn’t let her give up on herself. Union’s faculty and staff were among those who held out hope for Viann.

“Union invested in me. Dr. Stella Marrie (Chair of Union’s B.A. in Psychology program) became my champion,” said Barnett. “I graduated from college the same year my daughter graduated from high school.

Viann working her programI never dreamed that I would become a role model for others in my community. I decided that it is not what happens to you, but how you respond to life’s adversity that is most important. I reshaped my destiny, from one of desolation to one of victory.”

Viann now helps survivors of domestic human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and drug addiction through the Off the Street program, part of the many services offered by Cincinnati Union Bethel. Viann worked her way up, starting as a case facilitator, then program supervisor, and now managing director. Through her work and dedication, she has helped serve more than 1200 women.

“I wanted to change the world, and I am, one person at a time. I challenge the ladies with what I call My ABCDs. A = I need A job, B = Now I need a Better job, C = Now I can reach for a Career, and, finally, D = Now I can achieve my Dream job,” said Barnett. “My motivation and my focus demonstrates a life reformed through action and commitment.”

Barnett also works every day to make the public aware of the sex trafficking problem in our community and in the U.S. This is a chronic situation happening in so many cities.

“We work with the police and conduct outreach at the jail. We work with agencies across the city to help these women and girls. Many have never known a different kind of life. Traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of victims such as poverty, substance abuse, youth, the promise of a better life,” said Barnett. “I try to get them to understand that safety, recovery, empowerment, and community reintegration is possible. We currently house 24 women, but we have a waitlist of 67.”

Barnett is grateful to Union. “I was the older, nontraditional student with a daughter, with some community college credits. Union supported me when I needed it. Without the scholarships and the support I received, I couldn’t have held out any hope. Now I have a degree, I have made my daughter and my family proud, and I’m hoping to complete a master’s degree program. With all that I have done, I can now offer support to others. Life is good.”

Barnett was the recipient of the Women in Union Scholarship (WIU), created to lift single, head-of-household women and their children out of poverty by providing them with financial assistance to obtain a college degree.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, poverty is five times greater in single-parent families. Women head 80 percent of these single-parent families. Without a college degree, there are few opportunities for single parent women to positively affect their family income through career advancement, making it difficult to better their own lives, as well as the lives of their children. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says it best. “In terms of dollars, education makes sense. Median weekly earnings in 2017 for those with the highest levels of educational attainment—doctoral and professional degrees—were more than triple those with the lowest level, less than a high school diploma. And workers with at least a bachelor’s degree earned more than the $907 median weekly earnings for all workers.” (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

More than 80 women have received Women in Union Scholarships since the program began in 2009.

Join the individual donors who have designated their contributions to assist women achieve their dreams. Viann is a living example of how your investment makes a definitive impact on future students’ lives. Through your contribution, Union can continue its mission to engage, enlighten, and empower adults to pursue professional goals and a lifetime of learning, service, and social responsibility. Your donation also encourages students to make a difference in their communities and the world, and continues Union’s commitment to social justice.

Click here to donate today. Your Goals. Your Success. Your Union. We’ve Got U!