“Are you feeling Felty?” he asks a group of The Class 17 students of Valley Teen Leadership and their parents. Laughter fills the room when he follows with, “Sorry, it’s just a family inside joke.”
John Felty, a sophomore at Perry High School in Gilbert, AZ explains to the group how he set in motion the process of The Exodus Road applying and eventually being awarded an almost $4,000 grant from The Class 17 students of Valley Teen Leadership. A grant that will go directly toward helping 8 victims recently rescued from sexual slavery who are currently being held in government facilities, awaiting repatriation. Without the funding necessary to pay social workers, lawyers and professional advocates, these victims run the risk of ending up right back into the hands of traffickers again once they are released.
He responds humbly when I inquire about his involvement with the grant process,
“I am just a small puzzle piece in the bigger picture.”
After John heard Matt Parker, Founder and CEO of The Exodus Road, speak at a youth event, he knew he had to do something. “I knew that Valley Teen Leadership had a grant opportunity for a non-profit organization, so I waited after the event to talk to Matt personally…he was really excited so he gave me his email address and that’s when we started emailing each other.” When I ask John what made him choose to take action on behalf of The Exodus Road as opposed to another organization, he responds, “I was just so shocked that this is going on. After I heard Matt speak and I did some additional research on my own, I couldn’t believe that sex trafficking is actually a really big issue.”
But John isn’t exactly in the dark when it comes to really big issues. He has gone on two mission trips; one to Compton, CA and another most recently during his spring break to Haiti. When I ask him about his experience in Haiti, I could tell his time there still affects him immensely. “It was really shocking. One night we were driving off the main road to get lumber and wire to build pews for a church we were building and the stuff we saw…it was bad. It’s hard to even talk about,” he explains.
The more questions I ask John, the more I begin to see a pattern emerging. A pattern that tells me when John learns of a problem or sees an opportunity to help an organization or a group of people, instead of looking the other way, he makes the choice to take action; to actually do something about it. He could choose to do nothing. After all, he is a teenager, an avid mountain bike racer, a student, a member of a youth group at his church as well as a member of Class 17 of Valley Teen Leadership. One could argue that is “enough.” But not for John. When I ask him what he would say to other young people that feel like they couldn’t possibly make a difference in such a worldwide problem as sex trafficking, he pulls out a white folded piece of paper from his wallet.
“Have you heard The Starfish Story?” he asks, “I’ll read it to you.”
“One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The youth replied, ‘Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.’ ‘Son,’ the man said, ‘don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!’ After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, ‘I made a difference for that one.’”1
All of us were born to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Our hearts will remain restless until we choose to answer the call on our lives. To give of ourselves, our time and our efforts; to rise up and fight for those who are not able to fight for themselves. Nelson Mandela once said,
“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
John doesn’t wear a cape under his plaid Hurley shirt.
He doesn’t leap tall buildings.
He didn’t walk into the Barnes and Noble for our interview in a kilt with his face painted like Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart shouting, “FREEEEEDOM!”
John Felty is an everyday teenager who chooses to answer the call to do extraordinary things…
And so can you.
Article written by Amy Garcia. Amy is a Social Media Content Writer for The Exodus Road. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two children.
1. Original story, by Loren Eisley