This week, we are taking time to say a special goodbye to Mary Landerholm, our Leadership and Engagement Manager at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT). Mary will be stepping down from her staff position on April 19th. We recently sat down together and asked her to share some highlights from her time with LCHT.
You’ve been working full time with LCHT for over three years, but your relationship with our work goes back even further. Share a little bit about your history with LCHT, and how you got involved in anti-trafficking work.
It’s been a crazy ride. It all started in 2012 as a student in the human trafficking class at MSU Denver that AnnJanette Alejano-Steele, one of the co-founders of LCHT, designed and taught. The following year, I was a TA for that class as well as an intern at LCHT as part of my undergraduate studies in social work. I then interned at another anti-trafficking organization, Prax(us), which ultimately led to me participating on the steering committee for the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking (CoNEHT).
I then stepped in as Executive Director at Prax(us), which worked alongside LCHT and many other partners within the Colorado anti-trafficking movement. When Prax(us) closed in 2015, it happened to be the same time LCHT was relaunching the Colorado Project 1.0 Action Plan and hiring an Action Plan Manager. I was hired for that position and since then have had the pleasure of focusing on LCHT’s mission to inform social change that eliminates human exploitation.
During your time here, you held positions as the Action Plan Manager and most recently as the Leadership and Engagement Manager. What are some of the projects you contributed to, and what are you most proud of?
I’ve always believed in the research that LCHT conducts and is currently producing. Having a community-based research methodology which furthers anti-trafficking efforts at the local level is important to me, and it’s part of why I came on in 2015. I helped promote LCHT’s first action plan, and more recently helped develop the recommendations in Action Plan 2.0. They are both guiding tools for our statewide efforts.
With increased awareness and partnerships taking shape both locally and nationally, I felt the need to transition my focus at LCHT to our Leadership Development Program, and work more directly with the inspiring leaders who participate alongside us. I designed a lot of our current Leadership Development Program curriculum, and got to bring so many wonderful leaders directly into our community engagement efforts. I’m most proud to be a part of the history of these programs at LCHT and the impact the work has had on our state.
One area you’ve been especially passionate about is survivor leadership and keeping people with lived experience front-and-center in this work. Why does that matter so much?
It has always mattered and will continue to matter- not only to me, but to those who stand in solidarity with survivors of violence. Our voices MUST be at the forefront of any ally movement about our experience. This may sound like an easy request or task, but it has proven to be challenging over the years. It has gotten better for some, but not all.
Because of the continued challenges and complexities in survivor-led movements, I thinks it’s essential on so many levels for anyone doing this type of work to seek out and integrate expertise from survivors at all touch points of the work. Much in the same ways we look at the 4P framework (Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, Partnership) to advance anti-trafficking efforts, individuals with lived experiences must be embedded in and throughout those efforts.
Things are much different on this front compared to five years ago, but we are by no means where we would like to be. The continued push by local and grassroots players such as LCHT are helping to shift this landscape and I’m excited to say that I will continue to be in these conversations.
What have you learned about yourself during your time with LCHT, and what would you share with someone considering a profession in anti-trafficking?
Goodness….what I’ve learned about myself? A: You can’t do this alone, so find your village. B: Don’t forget to laugh, the work is too hard not to enjoy the sun on your face and the hug from a friend. C: Making mistakes is a part of the process, and you have to trust the process!
Why does LCHT’s mission matter to you?
It takes the responsibility of every community member to address this issue. Informing social change can shift our thinking and the way we see each other. This can and does change outcomes for eliminating exploitation. Whether that’s a human services professional looking at their clients differently, a judge or law enforcement officer understanding a new connection with the community they serve, or a young person knowing their rights… social change is possible when we all come together with a greater vision of what we want for each other and our communities. That is the challenge LCHT has taken on.
What’s next for you professionally? Will you continue to be involved in similar work?
Absolutely I’ll be around! I’ll continue to work in local anti-trafficking efforts as well as in some national spaces. I will continue to be a part of survivor-led efforts as well. I’m also exploring potential PhD programs, and intend to continue teaching at MSU Denver.