Organizers of a fun but informational event in Howell next weekend are hoping to inspire the community to join the fight against human trafficking.

The “Unmasked Gala” will be held Saturday, January 6th from 7 to 10pm at the historic Howell Opera House and will feature a DJ, dancing, and games. Guests can also partake in tours of the Opera House and giveaways. But there is a dual purpose that serves as the foundation of the event’s ultimate goal. The gala is organized by The Key Project, a nonprofit that began in Livingston County with a goal to educate the community about human trafficking in order to strengthen the fight against it.

Key Project President Mariah McDonald says it’s easy to disregard the issue in an area as prominent as Livingston County, but wants to make it clear that human trafficking is not beholden to a specific demographic, noting it can affect any city, county or area, as well as any age, race, or gender. As an example, McDonald says she was at the Howell Carnegie District Library recently and saw a human trafficking poster inside the women’s restroom. The poster has peel-off stickers with a helpline number on them, which individuals in a compromising situation can take and call. McDonald says three stickers were missing. For her, she says that means Livingston County still has work to do and that the issue is very real, even in such a prominent community.

McDonald says the theme of the event is to “unmask” human trafficking and let it be known for what it really is. McDonald says the crime can often be hidden behind a glamorous veil, disguising its true intentions. Informational booths will be at the event to promote awareness and knowledge of the realities of human trafficking. Ethical shopping vendors will also be present and will be selling items made by anti-trafficking organizations.

McDonald stresses that the gala is free for the community to attend, but any money raised by the raffle or through donations will be given to safe houses and street outreach projects The Key Project facilitates. Though a ticket is not needed, guests are encouraged to register to attend the Unmasked Gala so event organizers can plan accordingly. A link to register is available below. (DK)