By Julie Godchaux- Linneman and Mandi Budd
Sometimes a thing is just so good, we need two of them. This interview series with Mandi Budd, representative for Face Forward, is one of those things. If you wish to read Part 1 of this interview, click here.
In Part 2, Mandi and I focused more closely on deeper information about Face Forward and all of the facets that entails. We also discussed the effects of COVID-19 on Face Forward's functioning and on the patients the good people at Face Forward work with.
I want to say thank you again to Mandi Budd of Face Forward for taking time to talk with me about her organization and about many of the issues that interest and concern us here at StreetLightUSA.
Julie: What would you say are some of the major concerns Face Forward is addressing? As you've mentioned, both internationally and nationally there are acid attacks and injuries from war and injuries from mass shootings. What are the concerns that Face Forward is specifically focusing on and thinking about?
Mandi: The mission of the organization when it was founded in 2007 was domestic violence. That was the first vision because our founder, Deborah Alessi, was a domestic violence survivor herself so that is where the birth of the organization began.
Over time, our founder and her husband traveled more and as they were travelling internationally, they started seeing more effects from human trafficking. That is when, 2014 or 2015, we began to shift the organization to include issues regarding human trafficking.
Julie: Could you speak further about Face Forward's relationship to anti-human trafficking efforts?
Mandi: I think a lot of people in the United States hadn’t really thought about human trafficking until the movie Taken came out. And even then, they thought, “Oh, that doesn't happen here; that only happens in other countries.” Well, no, that is absolutely not the case.
Face Forward is headquartered here in California, and California is number one in the country in reported trafficking cases. When Deborah and I started really talking about expanding the mission and getting more involved in the advocacy work, we personally began noticing human trafficking in more and more public settings.
A lot of people might brush off a situation they see and say, “Oh, that's just a young girl getting hit on in a bar by a 70-year-old man.” Well, that may not be the situation in a lot of cases. Looking at some subtle differences, a person might realize they are observing a girl who has been trafficked. When you see something, then do something.
At Face Forward we work at constantly educating ourselves by going to conferences, connecting with other nonprofit partners, all in an effort to gain the information and knowledge to help more.
Julie: Has COVID-19 changed the way Face Forward functions with patients?
Mandi: It has affected our organization in a couple of ways. The first is the very impact of the quarantine itself.
Because of the lockdowns, people becoming unemployed and staying at home, they are now spending more time on their computers and on social media and they're doing research. We've seen an influx of more applicants for surgical care because many people have free time, more people have time to seek help and receive help. When they have been furloughed or they've been laid off completely, they now have the time off for surgical procedures in a way they may not have had before.
The COVID challenge on our end was that our surgical centers had to shut down for two and a half months. I was continuing to work remotely, bringing in all these new applications, but we couldn't schedule patients. Before COVID we already had a wait list of 14 patients that were pre-approved and were supposed to be here in the first half of the year, but COVID struck and that shifted everything.
Nine of these 14 were international cases and when our borders shut down they were unable to get visa approval. We're still looking at applications and we're still interviewing, but we’ve had to shift our focus. We were able to help a few patients who were fortunate enough to get shifted higher on the waiting list simply because of their geographic location. If someone is in the state of California and can drive in for surgery, that's a much easier task to accomplish than somebody flying in from Kenya.
With COVID we also had time to fine tune a lot of our internal processes, research new partners, get involved with different ways to fundraise, and we are all individually navigating COVID, too.
Julie: How has Face Forward’s ability to coordinate with individual doctors and build partnerships changed because of COVID?
Mandi: Because of many online tools like LinkedIn and programs like Zoom I have found that outreach can connect us in ways I would not have expected. As a result, I have been talking with some contacts about working on an international scale to connect us with groups doing work specifically for people affected in war-torn areas in other countries.
We are working to put together a collective of the groups and the doctors that we work with. This increase in partnerships can help us get patients in and out a little quicker by cutting through the red tape that goes with getting patients out of certain high-risk areas.
Creating a collective means that not just one organization has the burden of all the work. By pulling our resources together and serving the greater good, while still operating and functioning separately, we can each do our portion but use our connections to accomplish something much larger. That’s very exciting and working more online because of COVID has made this possible.
Competition between nonprofits is not sustainable, at the end of the day you can't do this alone. You can accomplish so much more together.
Julie: I am interested in knowing what brought Face Forward and StreetLightUSA together. I know that Face Forward is also involved with other organizations as well. What started Face Forward’s interest in collaborating with other nonprofits?
Mandi: If there are groups that we connect with, especially in a way we admire, we go and speak to them and just talk about the work that we do. Many of these groups help us run better; for example, by offering housing assistance and food services and clothes for our patients. Because of these partnerships, somebody can spread the word about the work that we do. If we're able to bring in one patient from a partnership, and help transform one life, then we're doing our job.
With these collaborations I'm also gaining knowledge about all these other groups as well and sharing it with other partners. I can do a lot of networking for other nonprofits because I'm learning about what everybody's doing, and I can say to them you should talk to so and so.
Julie: I'd like to ask you more about why you've chosen to work with Face Forward. What began your personal passion for Face Forward’s mission?
Mandi: I worked in the nonprofit world when I was younger, but I stepped out of nonprofit work for about 10 years to be an administrator for public accounting firms. I loved the people I worked with and all of the amazing benefits of working for a large firm. When I moved to Los Angeles it just hit me that I couldn't keep doing what I’d been doing. I needed to get back to where my heart was and that was in service to others in whatever capacity that required. I care about people. My friends have always thought I would be a good nurse but medicine wasn’t for me.
Julie: Working in medicine may definitely not be for everyone, however you’ve proven that it doesn’t mean you can’t help people in organizations that are medically minded.
Mandi: I'm a nurturer, a caregiver by nature. But I don't have the mindset of someone who works in a fully medical environment. I like to work in the grand scheme of things. I'm passionate about the work that I do and I make sure that at the end of the day our patients get the best possible care.
The medical system can be difficult to work with unless you have somebody advocating for your care in a lot of ways; someone that knows how to navigate the system. Sadly, there are still a lot of people that don't know how to do online research for themselves. I am able to help someone in that capacity and to offer them as many services as possible. It's a huge portion of what I do. I'm the executive director and I work in fundraising, but I'm also the patient care coordinator. I always tell people, we're a small organization doing really big things.
If you would like to learn more about Face Forward International, please visit their website at https://www.faceforwardintl.org.