Health Imperatives: A Good Win for Anti-Trafficking Advocates

Apr 9, 2024News

“I’ve been waiting to find a way to hire you, and I need to hire you now.” 

It was my longtime friend Julia Kehoe on the phone, inviting me to contribute PR consulting to one of the most important projects of my career.

Since answering that phone call two years ago, I’ve been fortunate to help Julia’s organization, Health Imperatives, improve the health and well-being of vulnerable families and individuals throughout Southeastern Massachusetts. 

The nonprofit’s latest collaboration is Sanctuary Place, a safe, supportive residence for survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. 


Opening Sanctuary Place

Julia partnered with Bill Grogan, the CEO of the Office for Urban Planning and Development, and together, they overcame countless challenges on the path to finally opening Sanctuary Place.

Launching a supported housing program like Sanctuary Place is unique from any other grand opening because its address must remain undisclosed to protect the women who will call the residence home.

While I was committed to getting the story out and attracting support, I knew we needed a strategically stealthy approach that would celebrate Sanctuary Place’s important work while protecting the privacy and honoring the experiences of the women it was built to serve. 


From COVID to completion

The concept for Sanctuary Place has been in the works for many years, but COVID halted all progress for a time. Julia and Bill’s commitment to their dream never wavered, however. They kept their eyes on the goal, and at the beginning of 2024, Sanctuary Place opened at last.


Getting down to the wire

About two months before Sanctuary Place would be ready for a grand opening, Julia and I began meeting to discuss our strategy. Less than 30 days before the event was to take place, the residence still lacked flooring, beat-up doors hung from antique hinges, and there wasn’t a chair or a bed in sight. But Julia assured me: “Don’t worry, the construction foreman assured us that it’s going to be done in time!”


Approaching the press

Few media outlets are interested in sending their reporters out to cover small, private events, but in-person reporting isn’t the only way to draw attention to a cause. When columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote about human trafficking only two days after Sanctuary Place opened, we reached out to The Boston Globe about future collaborations, including the possibility of co-authoring an op-ed piece by Julia and Bill, knowing their personal perspectives would lend incredible insight and meaning to the story behind Sanctuary Place.


Engaging other nonprofit leaders

Events provide great opportunities to create high-quality content, from photographs to video footage to interviews with key players. I immediately thought of Linda Holliday, a former public relations client and the executive director of the Bill Belichick Foundation. As a staunch advocate for women’s issues, Linda would be the perfect host for the event.

True to form, Linda contributed her time and expertise, conducting interviews with incredible sensitivity and eliciting powerful stories from the participants.


Managing many moving parts

Impactful events always involve numerous overlapping elements that must be carefully planned and accurately executed. For Sanctuary Place’s opening, we scheduled plenty of time to capture video footage before and during the event. We aligned a board meeting with the event so the board members could all be present. We also arranged a speaking program and booked a catered dinner. Each of these elements was reinforced with a plan B, as well, since nothing ever goes perfectly to plan.


Problem-solving and crisis management

Our careful planning couldn’t prevent a few hiccups and close calls. From blown fuses to last-minute painting, the house was a flurry of activity right up to when the first guest arrived. At one point, the contractor rushed off to buy additional lamps for the living room!


Saved by the schedule

A plan of action is imperative for any event, and our carefully structured schedule proved invaluable at Sanctuary Place. Because we’d meticulously planned every moment down to the last detail, we were able to pivot when the circuit breakers kept shutting the electricity down as the system was definitely overloaded that day with lights, video cameras, a podium and soundboard, personal devices charging, and every light blazing.

Thanks to our play-by-play planning, Julia was able to oversee the final home projects, execute a beautiful interview with Linda Holliday, deliver comments throughout the evening, and host a truly memorable event.


Real support for survivors

When Cece, the director of Sanctuary Place, spoke, she said, “I only wish that when I was struggling, there was a place like this—but there was nothing.” 

Her story underscores the deep need for support and safety for people who find themselves taken advantage of in their vulnerability. Through Sanctuary Place, Health Imperatives enables the best possible outcomes for clients who have experienced trafficking and exploitation.

Individuals who are frequently overlooked or even blamed for their victimization can find genuine compassion, empowerment, and hope through Health Imperatives’ programs. In time, the nonprofit aims to build more safe houses, more awareness, and more support programs—not only in Massachusetts but also, with any luck, nationwide. 


Public Relations for Nonprofits

Through my PR consulting work with Health Imperatives, I’ve been reminded that the most effective public relations isn’t always tied to huge campaigns and massive outreach. Sometimes, power lies in quiet, deliberate strategy.

Over the last two years, we’ve watched Health Imperatives’s media profile grow consistently, even as we focused solely on awareness through storytelling. Instead of worrying about every possible PR opportunity, we’ve prioritized the incredible true stories that prove the nonprofit’s impact throughout Boston and beyond. And we’ve seen firsthand how the hard work of helping others makes its way through a community, pushes past cultural and socioeconomic barriers, and makes its mark on everyone who listens to the story.

After the Sanctuary Place event, Julia sent me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers along with a note that said, “I couldn’t have done this if there was anybody else in the room except for you.” But the truth is that I couldn’t do any of the work I do without women like Julia—women who make things happen for the good of those around them.

Let’s work together.