Cleo Nunnelly

Sophomore social work major Cleo Nunnelly devotes her spare time to Rapha House, a global organization whose goal is to end human traffick- ing and sexual exploitation of chil- dren. The Joplin faction of the orga- nization appears in the community at different events throughout the year to raise awareness of the real- ity of human trafficking and to sell the products that are sewn by chil- dren in their safe houses, an activity that gives the children a marketable skill. 

In a world where millennials are constantly accused of selfishness and whining, the reputation of college students, at least in the eyes of older generations, is not a good one. Some twenty-somethings, however, are choosing to prove the naysayers wrong and give back to their communities. Cleo Nunnelly, a sophomore social work major who works extensively with Joplin’s Rapha House, is one such person.

Rapha House, which is a worldwide charity, is “committed to ending the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children,” said Nunnelly. The organization, which houses children in countries such as Cambodia, has launched a program which teaches children to sew, giving them a marketable skill to utilize once they leave Rapha House. In turn, the products are prepared and sold in the U.S., and all the proceeds go directly back into the sewing program.

Nunnelly first heard about Rapha House in high school and human trafficking in general while at church camp, but didn’t truly understand the seriousness until later in life when a guest speaker at Southern opened her eyes.

“In my freshman year of college, I heard a guest speaker from Rapha House and he expressed to us how real human trafficking and sex slavery is. It absolutely broke my heart,” Nunnelly explained. “He said ‘If you haven’t found your thing, you need to.’ And that was it.”

She began volunteering at Rapha House almost immediately, and her few days a week of prepping the merchandise turned into a summer internship of working with the products through all phases of production, including tagging, counting, sorting, and shipping. She assisted in the preparation of Rapha House’s new Main Street location, and now continues to volunteer there several times a week helping to coordinate volunteers with the opportunities that Rapha House offers.

For Nunnelly, it isn’t just the experience she’s getting that matters—it’s the heart and soul of the organization.

“The characteristics that set Rapha House apart from other nonprofit organizations I have worked with is the drive each and every person affiliated has to share the love of Jesus with the survivors who come into the Safe House,” said Nunnelly. “I admire the hope and optimism the staff of Rapha House imparts to our community, staff, and survivors.”

A strong Christian, Nunnelly credits the stories of others and sharing in the joy “that can only come from Jesus” as transforming her over the course of 2016.

“If I had not gotten involved with this mission, I do not believe I would be as compassionate and empathetic as I have learned to be in the past year.”

Rapha House has two-hour volunteer shifts available on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Nunnelly, who now acts as the organization’s volunteer coordinator, can be reached at cnunnelly@raphahouse.org.

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