Two-time Academy Award-winning actor, director, and producer Kevin Costner was the keynote speaker of the Friends New Life (NFNL) 12th Annual WINGS Luncheon, raising $1.1 million to support victims of sex trafficking and commercial exploitation, at the Hyatt Regency Dallas on April 10. The sold-out crowd of 1,600 was treated to a “Conversation with Kevin Costner” as he joined local movie producer Gary Cogill on stage. Past speakers have included Sally Field, Barbara P. Bush, Nicholas Sparks and Harriet Miers.
Luncheon Chair The Honorable Jeanne Johnson Phillips joined Honorary Co-Chairs Ruth Altshuler and former First Lady Laura Bush and incoming Board Chair Nancy Ann Hunt in promoting the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser to date.
The day’s activities began with a VIP Reception where top donors and special guests had a chance to meet Costner and take pictures, followed by a few brief remarks by Costner on stage, facilitated by Jeanne Johnson Phillips, event chair. Costner commented on how movies “can bring us together” and that “each of you feel like you know me from my movies.” He highlighted some of his movies to a captive audience including Ann Barbier, Nancy Best, Suzy Gekiere, Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt , Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, Bobby Lyle, Christina Lynch, Sandy Nachman, Lisa Schlachter, Marianne Staubach, Sue Strauss, Gail and Gerald Turner, Lisa Trout, and a couple hundred more.
Coinciding with Costner’s participation, NFNL launched a men’s advocacy group, consisting of an 18-member governing board, to mobilize area men to personally and collectively act against human trafficking by raising awareness through advocacy and volunteerism.
“New Friends New Life is about protecting the most vulnerable citizens of our city – our children,” said Jeanne Johnson Phillips, luncheon chair. “With an estimated 400 teens on the streets each night as targets of human traffickers, it is incumbent upon each of us who care about Dallas to send a message that Dallas is a no tolerance zone for human trafficking.”
Referencing the statistics on human trafficking highlighted at the luncheon, Costner said, “These numbers are bothering people, the numbers bother me. And I can tell they bother the room…so we’re kind of in this together. I have three daughters, and I have told my children every day since the day they were born they are special. But I never fail to end that sentence with “that does not make you better than anybody.”
“My daughters know what a man’s hands feel like that love them, and some of these women have not been told they were special and had hands on them that love them so that they know the difference.”
During the luncheon, NFNL honored local, state and national recipients of the organization’s ProtectHer Awards. The Letot Girls’ Residential Treatment Center, Texas Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Investigations Division Human Trafficking Squad and Sabre were honored for their visionary guidance and leadership in protecting the rights of women and girls.
The Letot Girls’ Center, a collaboration among the Dallas Police Department, Dallas County Commissioners Court and Dallas County Juvenile Department, addresses issues unique to the community’s exploited girls – extreme abuse, trafficking and abandonment. The DPS’ Human Trafficking Squad conducts investigations connected to human trafficking and related offenses, rescuing victims and arresting suspects. Sabre, a leading technology provider to the global travel and tourism industry, developed “Passport to Freedom,” a program to provide support to victims and unite the travel and tourism industry in fighting human trafficking. Additionally, Sabre created an online training course for their employees as well as a scholarship program making post-secondary education and vocational training attainable for trafficking survivors.
“New Friends New Life is beyond grateful to these three outstanding organizations and their service and dedication, making a noticeable difference in the lives of young girls and women,” said Katie Pedigo, executive director, NFNL.
Kevin Costner began his career in independent films, gradually earning small parts in more established movies. His first major motion picture role was in the coming-of-age comedy “Fandango.” Throughout his career, Costner has varied his choices with comedy, action and drama roles. He has appeared in such popular box-office hits as “No Way Out,” “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Bodyguard” and “Wyatt Earp.” His exceptional filmmaking abilities were showcased in “Dances with Wolves,” which he produced, directed and starred in and which won seven Academy Awards including “Best Picture” and “Best Director.” Costner stars in two films currently showing in movie theaters – “Black or White” and “McFarland U.S.A.” When Costner is not working on films, he sings lead vocals and plays lead guitar in his band Modern West in venues across the country. The band was heading to perform in Oklahoma following the luncheon and then on to perform in Gruene Hall on the weekend.
Costner and Cogill discussed his movies, the effect the movie Giant had on him as a young boy, and his love of cowboy movies. Costner shared some personal and meaningful stories including the filming of JFK and a day that began with hanging out with Cal Ripken and the Baltimore Orioles, which turned into golf with President H.W. Bush and Andre Agassi, and ended with dinner at the White House – an experience Costner referenced as a great and very memorable day in his life.
Serving more than 1,000 women and children annually, New Friends New Life provides holistic services for sexually exploited girls, women and children including, access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support. Staff and volunteers provide counseling, a program for children of protégés and a therapeutic prevention program at Letot Girls’ Center and the Dr. Jerome McNeil Detention Center. By partnering with agencies and individuals, NFNL helps to provide legal assistance, medical services, budget counseling, job-readiness training and educational opportunities. The nonprofit’s High Risk and Trafficked Teen Girls Program teaches girls ages 12 to 17 how to define, recognize and ultimately recover from abuse, helping them to avoid a lifetime as human trafficking victims.
The luncheon concluded with New Friends New Life Executive Director Katie Pedigo coming to podium to announce that $1.1 million had been raised.
“On behalf of those served, New Friends New Life is thankful for the overwhelming community support to provide true transformation and freedom for those who need it so desperately,” added Pedigo. “This organization is about children seeking a life without sexual abuse and emotional trauma. No 14-year-old girl should be bought and sold at the whim of a “john” and hands of a trafficker. By supporting New Friends New Life, you are declaring that every young child deserves to be free.”
For more information on New Friends New Life, visit www.newfriendsnewlife.org or call (214) 965-0935.