Wildcat Tracks: Annie Dollarhide Kardas ’96

Our tag line here at A21 is “Abolish Slavery Everywhere, Forever”…and that is absolutely our mission. It’s daunting—it’s huge—and most days it feels impossible, but it’s what makes getting out of bed every day worthwhile,” said Annie Kardas, Westminster alumna and human resources director for the A21 Campaign, an anti-trafficking organization working in 12 countries with the goal of eliminating human slavery in all forms.

Kardas lives and works in Thessaloniki, Greece with her husband, Aris, and two sons. It’s a long way from Westminster, a place she credits with starting her on the path her life has taken. “My time at Westminster was educational in oh-so-many ways both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “One teacher that stands out the most as making a big impression on me was Mr. Hearne. He was determined to get us ‘ready for the big school’ (college), and he was known for his ‘Big Rewards’ (tests). The class was US History, and he really made it come alive. Mr. Hearne required us to read Newsweek and keep up with current affairs because he also wanted us to understand that we were also living and writing history. He was a no-nonsense, dry humor, and sometimes even intimidating teacher, but I was given a great piece of advice from a student a grade ahead of me. They told me to sit in the front row on the first day of his class, and that Mr. Hearne would assign the seat you chose that day as your seat for the rest of the semester. They also said that while Mr. Hearne may seem intimidating, he’s actually hilarious and often makes comments under his breath that the kids in the back row can’t hear. They were right! I was on the edge of my seat paying close attention to both the lessons and the hilarious commentary all year long!”

Kardas worked hard while a student at WCA, which paid off for her in the end. “While I didn’t actually test into honors/advanced classes, my friends did, so I took them too and studied like crazy to keep up. Oh, the hours of homework! But by entering college with a full semester under my belt I was able to graduate early. Pushing myself, and getting involved in all the extras did in fact set me up for ‘the big school’—which in turn set me up for life. It really all did start at Westminster.”

After graduating from Bradley University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Kardas started working for Joyce Meyer Family Ministries, helping to start a youth program they sponsored. While working on the nationwide anti-violence high school assembly program, she met Christine Caine, who was with the Australian based church Hillsong. Kardas eventually moved to Australia to attend Hillsong Bible College and ended up staying for three years.

“One day, Christine came back from a trip to Europe. She had traveled from Ukraine to Greece working with various churches. It was the same year that Madeleine McCann disappeared in Portugal, the most heavily reported missing person’s case in modern history. After seeing all of the posters around Europe of this child who had disappeared, someone told Christine about human trafficking, suggesting that maybe something like that had happened to her (McCann). Horrified, Christine came back to Australia and asked me if I ever heard of such a thing–I hadn’t. We started to research this modern-day atrocity. Little did we know that what gripped our hearts then would become what is today, The A21 Campaign.”

Kardas, along with 120+ co-workers spread throughout 15 countries, works to reach, rescue, and restore. This is accomplished by engaging people through events, student presentations, and education programs. A21 works closely with law enforcement on the ground to support police operations, identify victims through hotlines, assist in the prosecution of traffickers, represent survivors in court proceedings, and collaborate with governments and other NGOs to eradicate slavery at every level. Most importantly, they work face-to-face with every person in their care based on their individual needs, providing them with access to housing, medical treatment, counseling, education, employment, and repatriation to help them reach a place of independence.

“The same month that I moved to Greece eight years ago, there was a girl that was rescued here. I got to personally watch her journey to recovery. I saw her come into our shelter untrusting and angry. She never looked you in the eye, always at the floor. Slowly, slowly I watched her hairstyle change, her makeup become less ‘dark’. Then her eyes started to meet mine when we talked. I watched her get a job, start coming to my church, then she started coming to the connect group I was leading,” Kardas said. “I was there when her trafficker was arrested, there for the emotional roller coaster of every court case that he somehow got postponed. Until the final one, where he was convicted and sentenced. A month after that, I threw her a going-away party at my apartment in Greece because she was leaving for the USA to start her degree in psychology! She graduated last year, got engaged, and just got married a few months ago. I cannot even put into words what it is like to know her—to have witnessed her journey—and to see her now. If all of this was only just for her—it was worth it. It was all worth it.”

Kardas explains how the average person can help. “On October 17, A21 is doing something a bit different in an attempt to mobilize thousands of people around the world in a single day by holding a Global Freedom Summit. It’s super easy to get involved and free! It’s all about raising awareness and putting practical tools in people’s hands in order to make a difference. It’s as easy as inviting people over to hang out at your house. We are holding a one-hour, global, online event—and it’s going to be epic in terms of giving people practical ways to truly make a dent in this fight against human trafficking. Just go to www.A21.org/summit to learn more about it.”

Annie Kardas is making a difference in our world by living out Westminster’s core vision statement: To equip students to engage their world and make an impact for Christ’s Kingdom. And she’s not done yet! “From the very start, we have talked about staying focused on ‘the one’; as long as ONE person remains a victim, we have a job to do.”

This alumni spotlight was originally featured in the August 2020 issue of our alumni newsletter, Wildcat Tracks.

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