Zack Jennissen goes the distance to end human trafficking, raise awareness of the cause

Zack Jennissen, a patient care assistant in Surgical Services, has run hundreds of miles to raise funds for 30ForFreedom, an organization dedicated to ending modern-day slavery. Learn about his experience and motivation.

Zack Jennissen isn't one to run away from danger. That's especially true when the reason he's running in the first place is to raise awareness of an issue that's important to him: ending human trafficking.

Jennissen, a patient care assistant in Surgical Services in Rochester, has run hundreds of miles to raise funds for 30ForFreedom, an organization dedicated to ending modern-day slavery, including the trafficking of men, women and children.

He has run across the entire state of Minnesota, clocking more than 600 miles in a little over three weeks. He has run 101 miles in 24 hours, doing 1.5-mile loops around the campus of Rochester Technical and Community College.

He has encountered wild animals, run through severe thunderstorms, and was even held at gunpoint on his runs, he says. But that isn't slowing him down or stopping him.

Jennissen initially heard about 30For Freedom from his youth church group and was inspired to help.

His mission is not just to raise funds but to share the importance of his cause with the people he meets while he's running. His hope is that people will be inspired to learn more and even join the effort.

The News Center team caught up with Jennissen to learn more about what inspires him to run the extra mile, his passion for the cause, the work of 30ForFreedom, and more.

Tell us a little bit about 30ForFreedom.

30ForFreedom is an organization that aims to end human trafficking in our lifetime. They fundraise with several events to support several renowned organizations such as Venture, Project Rescue and F.R.E.E. International.

30ForFreedom is entirely volunteer-based. Participants in 30ForFreedom run, bike, swim and do anything they can to push themselves to sacrifice what they have and shed light on how important this issue is. And to show that we mean to do something about it. We will not stand idly by.

The idea behind these participant-reliant events is that we set ourselves aside and focus on those in need. As the 30ForFreedom founder Brent Silkey says, "We move from comfortable to less comfortable so that others may experience freedom."

Leading up to the day of the event, people share what they plan to do and are doing to gather funds and raise awareness for the cause. When all of those funds are collected, 100% of them will be sent to the partner organizations that work directly in the field. That includes domestic areas, as well as countries like Myanmar and Nepal where they do prevention work, rescue operations, and survivor care and recovery.

What inspired you to participate with the group?

At first, I was inspired by learning the horrors of the ever-growing global child sex slavery market. I heard disturbing stories of how young boys and girls were being abused multiple times a day as a practice in the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

Many of these stories I heard were testimonies from the children themselves. The stories of human atrocity from witnesses and survivors weighed heavy on my heart. But as I got more deeply involved, it became increasingly personal as I discovered ties to my family.

How are you raising awareness of sex trafficking?

I raise awareness for the fight against trafficking by using the gifts God has given me to inspire people to take notice and action in what is happening all around us. I share both my stories and the testimonies of others in hopes of informing those who have not heard or do not understand trafficking.

It is not a far-off issue that has no solution or that we can do nothing about. We can not only make a real difference in real people's lives, but change them forever.

I want to show people that it's not about what you have to give but how you give it that matters. I am no more special than anyone else. I have just used what I have been given so that it may impact the life of someone else.

What are some of your most recent efforts?

In the last year, I have had the opportunity to be a part of some incredible feats. Last May, I ran over 600 miles in a solo trek across the state of Minnesota from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Grand Portage, Ontario, in just over three weeks.

This past September, I was able to do a 101-mile backyard ultra marathon in 24 hours with the support of my church.

I work with 30 For Freedom for the same reason I work at Mayo Clinic. ... I work here because I feel called to serve others.

Zack Jennisen

Most recently, I have been working on a team that is organizing the first official 30ForFreedom chapter event to be held in Rochester, Minnesota, this August.

These efforts are only the beginning of what I hope to accomplish. One day, I plan to traverse the continental U.S. in the name of this cause.

What difference have your efforts made so far?

So far, I have been able to raise about $20,000 through my efforts, the generosity of caring people, and the grace of God. This money can have the power to house, feed and educate one person for 2,000 days.

I have been able to raise awareness in every way imaginable through TV news broadcasts, radio shows, newspapers, online articles, social media, word of mouth and basically talking to anyone who has ears to listen.

What were some of your most memorable moments in participating in the cause?

I have incredibly wild stories of danger and adventure that could probably fill a novel. When you are running with no support van, no training, limited experience and averaging 30 miles a day down four-lane highways for weeks, things get plenty memorable.

I have been attacked by wild animals, caught in thunderstorms, run off the road, even held at gunpoint, but these are not the things that have stuck with me most. What has stayed with me most is the incredible God-given providence I have experienced through random miracles and the kindness of everyday people, and also the willingness of people to sacrifice beyond their measure.

I would be able to do nothing if not for these things. So many people have run alongside me figuratively and literally — welcoming me into their homes, offering me food and water, giving me clothing and, most importantly, encouragement to keep pressing forward.  

There were countless moments when I would call on God in great need and people would pop up from nowhere with exactly what I needed. I do not mean to diminish the things that I have done, but alone, I accomplish nothing.

On the other side of things, I am truly inspired by how people have been touched by my story. It is so humbling to hear people tell me how something I have done moved them to sacrifice for something greater than themselves.

How is your work with 30ForFreedom influencing your work at Mayo Clinic?

I was inspired to work at Mayo Clinic at a young age.

I grew up in Minnesota and heard the stories of the Sisters and the Mayo family, and the sacrifices they made to better people's lives. I have always recognized this as a foundation with its heart set on compassion.

I work with 30 For Freedom for the same reason I work at Mayo Clinic. They give me the opportunity to extend that same compassion to anyone in search of it. I work here because I feel called to serve others and do everything I can to bring some of the broken pieces of our world back together.

This is at the core of the 30ForFreedoms movement. It is also at the core of Mayo, which is why I am so proud and honored to be a part of this great mission.