Nita Belles is an author, speaker and leading national expert in the antihuman trafficking movement. Her journey as a tireless crusader against human trafficking began in 2006 when she witnessed the cruelty of this atrocity and was compelled to take action. Each year since 2010, Nita’s anti-trafficking work surrounding the Super Bowl has been instrumental in holding traffickers and sex-buyers accountable, and recovering victims of human trafficking. In her years of dedication to this issue ‒ from prevention to restoration ‒ she has collaborated with top law enforcement, survivors, government officials, social service providers, medical professionals, and faith communities as the key to creating comprehensive, lasting change.
National Speaker and Trainer
As a prominent trainer and motivational speaker, Nita engages audiences of all kinds, empowering them to use their expertise and sphere of influence to stop human trafficking. She frequently speaks to government officials, law enforcement, universities, businesses, civic organizations, medical communities, conferences and faith-based groups. Some past audiences have included National Association of Attorneys General, Oregon Youth Authority Parole and Probation, University of Oregon, Brigham Young University, Saddleback Church, Willow Creek Church, St. Thomas School of Law and innumerable human trafficking conferences.
Victims Advocate and Legislative Advisor
She possesses a deep understanding of both labor and sex trafficking and is sought after to assist in the recovery and restoration of victims. Nita knows that to make a lasting impact in ending human trafficking, laws must be changed, and she often advises legislators regarding laws to bring justice in this realm. She provides expert testimony as an advisor on HT laws and has influenced the passing of human trafficking legislation in several states. Nita was instrumental in the passing of Oregon’s House Bill 3143 which requires that Freedom Stickers
go out with every renewed liquor license in the state of Oregon and on Oregon SB 375 which placed poster replicas of Freedom Stickers in rest areas across the state. Freedom Stickers contain the National Human Trafficking Hotline number, offering a pathway to freedom for victims of human trafficking. They originated with IN OUR BACKYARD in 2011 and were designed in collaboration with survivors.
Author and Spokesperson
Expanding upon her first book written in 2011, Belles authored what has been acclaimed as the primer on human trafficking: In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do to Stop It (Baker Books 2015). Nita’s work has been published in Huffington Post, Washington Post, and the Journal of Christian Nursing, among others. Often interviewed as an expert on human trafficking, her work has been featured by CNN, FOX Files, USA Today, BBC, Focus on the Family, and others. She has twice been nominated for Woman of the Year in Central Oregon and the Liberator of the Year, a national award.
Founder and President
Nita is the Founder and President of IN OUR BACKYARD, a national nonprofit organization that links arms across America in the fight against human trafficking through awareness, action, education, legislative advising and advocacy for survivors. She is passionate and dedicated to leading the organization and has never taken a salary for her anti-trafficking work.
Career and Education
After a career in business, Nita earned her master’s degree in Theology with a Concentration in Women’s Concerns. She served as a domestic violence chaplain, an associate pastor and built and sold a successful business prior to founding IN OUR BACKYARD. Nita has been happily married to her husband Dan for more than 30 years. In her spare time, Nita enjoys riding her bike and spending time with her family.
Cheryl Csiky- Executive Director
Cheryl Csiky has been a leader in the fight against human trafficking since 2011. She has worked from recovery to restoration and possesses expertise in many aspects of human trafficking. Cheryl’s journey was prompted in 2011 by reading a book that confronted the atrocity of human trafficking, In Our Backyard, by Nita Belles. Armed with that knowledge, her natural leadership skills compelled her to begin mobilizing other volunteers to serve, resulting in recoveries, safe housing, and outreach strategies. This work also began to stir inside Cheryl a realization about the worst experiences of her own childhood. At 10 years of age she was groomed by a peer into doing “dates” for his profit in her suburban middle-class neighborhood. Her new understanding of trafficking caused her to realize she was actually a child trafficking survivor. Cheryl courageously lives her healing journey from childhood sexual exploitation by raising awareness, mobilizing others and disrupting traffickers’ tactics and profits. Her experience now compels others to see this atrocity through a child’s lens.
Before joining IN OUR BACKYARD in 2020, Cheryl served as a Compassion and Justice Pastor for a Chicago area mega church from 2013-2018. In that role, she developed anti-trafficking awareness programs, mobilized volunteers into various positions of nonprofits, and has continuously mentored and housed survivors. Her decade of extraordinary leadership leaves a legacy of courage with boots on the ground.
Accomplishments since 2020:
- Leader for IN OUR BACKYARD’s anti-trafficking team surrounding the past five Super Bowls.
- Featured in a CNN report regarding trafficking
- Developed National Recovery efforts with law enforcement and FBI
- She has implemented collaboration with top law enforcement, government officials, nonprofit leaders, and survivors. Her vision continues to pioneer prevention efforts in this role.
- Developed a triage response for potential trafficking victims for Amita Health.
- Group leader/mentor in the Cook County Jail, the third largest jail system in the United States and developed teams to serve as needed
- Trained in Chicago City street outreach by Brenda Meyers-Powell
- Lead anti-trafficking events with attendance ranging from small groups to 25,000
- Lead global anti-trafficking teams to Thailand and Cambodia
- Spoken at numerous conferences including the Justice Conference, Chicago
- Certified to serve youths affected by Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
- Cheryl holds a certificate as a Facilitator of Trauma Informed Care from the Allender Center
Cheryl is the Executive Director of IN OUR BACKYARD, a national anti-trafficking nonprofit that links arms across America in the fight against human trafficking. Her passion, competency and experience provide leadership at IN OUR BACKYARD and beyond. She loves to travel the world, create story, play video games, and spend time with family at Disney World.
Melissa Alvarez- Partnership & Mobilization Development Manager
Melissa Alvarez is an advocate against human trafficking and domestic violence for the local community. Melissa is originally from Chicago but is currently based out of Colombia.
When attending a leadership conference in 2015, she heard about the atrocities happening to young girls. Called to do something, she was advised to educate herself on human trafficking by reading and attending forums. The first book she read on human trafficking was IN OUR BACKYARD. This was the start of her journey. Ever since, she has had many unique experiences in the fight against human trafficking, training, and mobilizing others to do the same. As a former community Pastor in a Megachurch, she not only was a support system to her community, but organized and hosted events for 300+ people, built teams, and trained volunteers. As her role involved listening to others, she saw a need in voicing her concerns about domestic violence and human trafficking. She led the Anti-human trafficking Ministry where she hosted awareness workshops, built partnerships with non-profit organizations and churches, and guided volunteers into a fitting role. As Melissa began to partner and serve in different organizations, her experience helped her better understand survivors and the need to teach the local community about prevention and mobilization. She has served with local organizations where she would serve in Chicago’s streets, clubs, and truck stops where women/men were at risk of human trafficking. She continued her pastoral role, and started doing teachings online to minister to people who have histories of trauma and abuse; providing a safe space to talk about their stories and issues that are often silenced by the church.
Melissa’s passion is going to local churches, schools, groups, and zoom calls to educate others about this issue. Her wish is to have more information in Spanish for the Latinx community. Melissa has taken her work outside the US; In 2017 she lead workshops for teens about domestic violence and sexual abuse in Lima and Cusco, Peru. That trip opened doors to building relationships with a network of organizations all over Latin America who are also in the fight against human trafficking, where she has been invited to speak her story. No matter what country she is at, she always takes the opportunity to educate others.
Melissa is a trauma-trained advocate. She was trained by survivor-led organization, Treasures (California), in trauma and outreach strategies. Her certificate in Woman in Ministry Leadership from Hispanic Bible School (Chicago), prepared her as she learned more about domestic violence, women’s issues, and counseling methods. She is now continuing her education at Judson University for her BA in Human Services which she finishes next year. She strives to continue learning to better help others and the community.
Melissa started as a volunteer at IN OUR BACKYARD 4 years ago. As an ambassador, she guided volunteers in IOB’s Missing Children Outreach, worked alongside law enforcement during Super Bowl command post, and spoke at various awareness and convenience store training sessions. Melissa is now IOB’s Partnership & Mobilization Development Manager continuing the fight to stop human trafficking.
Melissa enjoys watching the beautiful sunset by the beach, and exploring nature with her family.
Masayo Halpin- Training Specialist
Masayo Halpin was a Special Agent with the Portland Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for twenty years. During her career at the FBI, she worked White Collar, Domestic Terrorism and Cyber but was assigned to the Violent Crimes Squad for most of her career. She served as the Crimes Against Children Coordinator and created the Innocence Lost Task Force, now known as the Child Exploitation Task Force. The task force consisted of four local law enforcement agencies and the FBI. It investigated cases involving the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. The task force collaborated with the non-governmental organizations to focus on services for the victims of sex trafficking. While at the FBI, Masayo also served as a legal advisor and was a member of the Hostage Negotiation Team and Evidence Response Team. She ended her career at the FBI as the Recruiter and working Community Outreach. Prior to joining the FBI, Masayo was an attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Masayo is a part-time instructor at the local community college teaching Ethics in Criminal Justice and Human Trafficking. Masayo is now IN OUR BACKYARD’S Training Specialist.
Kellie Stamm- Prevention Specialist
Kellie is a certified elementary school teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. While working in a Title I school in northwest Atlanta, she participated in a human trafficking training seminar and became familiar with the indicators and signs of human trafficking. Shocked to learn that these atrocities were occurring in her community and even to the students at her school, it was impossible for Kellie to move forward without becoming more deeply involved in efforts to combat this problem. The City of Atlanta hosted Super Bowl LIII the following year, and Kellie volunteered at the Linking Arms In Our Backyard event. At that event, she heard Nita speak and then purchased and read Nita’s book In Our Backyard. The fire inside her burned even hotter, and Kellie felt called to take her involvement to the next level. In April of 2022, she officially joined the IOB team as a Prevention Specialist.
Now in her sixth year of teaching, Kellie is passionate about raising awareness nationwide. In the early days of her teaching career, she was unaware that a student could attend school normally every day while being trafficked in the evenings and on weekends. Armed with this awareness, she is committed to ensuring that all teachers and students are trained to recognize the signs and indicators of human trafficking and know how this corrupt system works.
Kellie believes that social media is a potent tool in this day and age. She wants to spread the word via social media about human trafficking and the signs and indicators for people to be aware of. She also wants to make parents aware that human trafficking can happen online, and offer them the tools and the knowledge they need to secure their child’s social media.
Kellie is the youngest of three; she has an older sister and brother, and is the proud aunt of an adorable new nephew. When she’s not busy with school or IOB work, Kellie loves volunteering at church, going to Atlanta Braves games, and hanging out with family and her new nephew!