Arukah Project
Loreal Weitzel, executive director and co-founder of Arukah Project, will once again participate in Natasha’s Run for Justice, a 5K run/walk event presented by the nonprofit to benefit survivors of human trafficking, on Saturday, June 15, at Skypark. (Contributed)

In the fight against human sex trafficking, Loreal Weitzel not only talks the talk, she walks the walk, and she and her team from Arukah Project will be on their feet this Saturday at Skypark in Scotts Valley for the third annual Natasha’s Run for Justice.

Weitzel is the executive director and co-founder of Arukah Project, a Scotts Valley-based nonprofit dedicated to helping to extricate victims of sex trafficking in the Bay Area. The group focuses on building a community to promote stability and create an environment for healing to take place, and Weitzel has been on that mission since the nonprofit’s inception in 2019.

“You wouldn’t think of this area as a locale for human trafficking, but Santa Cruz County is identified as a hotspot,” Weitzel said.

According to Merriam-Webster, human trafficking is defined as “organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited (as by being forced into prostitution or involuntary labor).”

“According to statistics compiled by the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2021, at least 23% of identified victims were under the age of 18—and the ages of an additional 19% of victims were unknown. Unfortunately, the wider Bay Area region, including Santa Cruz County, was identified as a hotspot in the National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics,” wrote Faris Sabbah, County Superintendent of Schools.

On Saturday, June 15, the group will host its largest fundraiser of the year, Natasha’s Run for Justice, which is dedicated to Arukah Project’s Deputy Executive Director Natasha (last name withheld for privacy).

Weitzel said this family-friendly event is meant to educate, encourage and inspire attendees to be aware of the prevalence of sex trafficking in the region, and to welcome community members to be part of the solution to this growing problem.

The 5K run/walk is dedicated to a local survivor who fought for 15 years for her voice to be heard, for people to believe her, and to see her trafficker brought to justice. Due to her unwavering determination, her trafficker was sentenced to 174 years in prison, preventing him from ever terrorizing another victim again.

By holding this event, Weitzel’s team hopes to create connections within the community that lead to more than just conversation: she’s looking for action.

The 5K around Skypark begins at 9:30am, followed by the family fun day featuring live music by the Alison Sharino Band, a beer and wine garden, food trucks, a raffle and silent auction, and an area for the little ones, including a bounce house, face painting and more. The event lasts until 2:30pm.

“The family fun day event is free for all, but runners and walkers participating in the 5K can register for $40 each (kids up to age 6 are free),” Weitzel said.

All proceeds from the event benefit survivors of human trafficking and exploitation in Santa Cruz County.

Each successive year of Natasha’s Run has found attendance for the event doubling in size; this year, organizers are hoping to have 100-150 participants in the run. Same-day registration is available for those looking to join in the run, and by default, the fight against human trafficking.

Both Weitzel and Natasha will address the crowd and discuss the delicate and important work being done by Arukah Project, and visitors are welcome to meet the team to learn more about how one can support this organization.

“Ultimately, along with information and education, we want people to have fun at the event, and enjoy a day with their friends and family,” Weitzel said.

Natasha added, “I am so blessed to have the life I do now. It was not easy to get here, but I made it. I enjoy every moment I have and appreciate all of it. I’m grateful for this second chance at life I’ve been given. But no matter how great my life is now; it is my duty and responsibility to continue to speak out. It is my purpose. I leave you with this: How many more victims do we have to see in our community before we do something about it?”

To find out more about Natasha’s Run for Justice and the mission of the nonprofit, visit

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Christina Wise covers politics, education, art & culture, and housing issues. She has a degree in Communication from San Diego State University, and has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley since 1996. She's a community advocate and a mother of two.


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