Ever wish an individual in your community could get the recognition you think they deserve?
That’s exactly the goal of a new TV series, “The Hero Effect,” which airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
And this past Saturday, Sarasota activist Brook Bello, founder of anti-trafficking organization More Too Life, was spotlighted on the show. She founded the organization in 2000, inspired by her own experiences as a victim of sex slavery. She spoke extensively about what she suffered in the Herald-Tribune’s 2013 investigative project on sex trafficking, The Stolen Ones.
Bello hosted a screening of the episode Tuesday evening at CineBistro. As she watched the entirety of the show for the first time, she said she realized how far she and More Too Life had come.
“Doing this for 18 years, having worked with thousands of victims in that time, it was like, ‘Okay, we’re on the right path,'” Bello said in an interview. “Lives are being changed, and someone else besides us noticed it.”
On average, Bello works with about 160 victims of human trafficking or sexual violence and the organization serves about 1,200 children in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Her self-created curriculum, called “Living Above the Noise,” offers victim education on topics such as goal-setting, identity discovery and mental health management.
Most participants graduate about a year and a half into the program, and Bello says the timing is something “you just know.”
She’s passionate about public education and state legislation regarding human trafficking. Last year, she was one of the recipients of the highest national honor for community service, the President’s Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement award.
“You have to treat the cause, not the symptoms,” Bello said. “In order to do deep case management, you have to deal with the root causes.”
The victims Bello has worked with, who she refers to as survivors, speak highly of the program, her work, and Bello herself. One such survivor, who was pregnant when she entered More Too Life two years ago, discussed how her life had changed since meeting Bello. When she began the program, she had just found out her then-boyfriend was a trafficker.
“It flabbergasted me in a way,” the girl, now 16, said. “Brook would say things to me and I would say, ‘there’s no way.'”
Local philanthropist Christine Goodall, who has supported More Too Life almost since its inception, said Bello’s own experiences have made her uniquely prepared to do this type of work.
“I don’t know anyone who can rehabilitate a woman out of sexual exploitation – or even a man – better than her, because she’s been there,” Goodall said.