“North Muskegon Interact Club contacted our Interact Club, and they were interested in the idea of a donkey basketball game as a fundraiser,” Spring Lake high school Principal Mike Gilchrist said. “As that started to gain momentum, we started selling tickets. We sold only a couple tickets the first week, but we sold close to 100 tickets the second week.”
Spectators inside the packed gym looked on in awe as several large, live donkeys trotted onto the court. Though participants found it difficult to score baskets dragging or riding a donkey, everyone in the gym knew they were playing for a higher cause.
“The donkeys don’t move very fast. They have a mind of their own. But it’s not about the final score today,” Gilchrist, who did get a turn on the donkeys, said. “It’s about two communities coming together and celebrating a charity that we are here to support today.”
The Hope Project began in 2006 as an outreach program to educate and inform the community about the issue of human sex trafficking. The Hope Project's mission is to raise awareness of sex trafficking and to bring restoration and healing from its effects.
Currently, The Hope Project is in the process of opening a home in West Michigan for girls, ages 11-17, who have been removed from sex trafficking. The programs will provide comprehensive services to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery.
“We work with survivors of sex trafficking and young girls who could be vulnerable to sex trafficking,” said Sara Johnson, The Hope Project Director of Programming. “We provide counseling while also connecting survivors to other services they may need, such as housing or clothing.
“We also reach out to schools to raise awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds because if people don’t know about human trafficking nothing will be done about it.”
The Hope Project hit a few bumps out of the gate when first created, largely due to the fact that few knew what human sex trafficking was. The organization struggled to collect money, so it was forced to shift gears and start raising awareness.
“Once we raised awareness (of human sex trafficking), adult survivors started coming out for us to connect with and help them heal. We started with counseling and group therapy, and now we have connected with over 100 women and girls.”
Though the event supported a serious global issue, fans and participants of the three donkey basketball games were all smiles as lethargic donkeys and apprehensive community members joined together on the basketball court.
Despite being separated by only a few miles, Spring Lake and North Muskegon rarely cross paths for events like this. But Gilchrist was happy his school had the opportunity to participate and assist such an important, and often overlooked, issue.
“At Spring Lake, we try to teach our kids that they should be very civic minded, raise money for different organizations that help people,” Gilchrist said. “I’m very proud of the North Muskegon and Spring Lake student bodies (for their efforts).”