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Lighting the way to better communities

With neon T-shirts and a lake view, two Superior High School seniors plan to shine a light on human trafficking in the Twin Ports. Kjersten Lisak and Megan Tunell are coordinating a “Light It Up” 5K walk/run 8 a.m. Aug. 16 around Dowling Lake. All proceeds are earmarked for the Duluth-based Programs of Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, or PAVSA.

“We’re lighting up the darkness,” said Lisak, 17. “Light it up so people know, are aware, and it stops.”

Sexual assault and human trafficking aren’t just a Duluth or a Superior problem.

“It is a Twin Ports problem,” said Tunell, 18. “By helping PAVSA you are also helping the community become a better place to live in.”

PAVSA provides support, education and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Programs include a 24-hour crisis line, legal assistance and hospital advocates who offer support, answer questions and identify resources and options during sexual assault exams.

The organization describes sex trafficking as when someone makes a person, regardless of age, have sex with other people in exchange for money, drugs, shelter, clothes, or other goods or services. Neither Tunell nor Lisak realized how bad the human trafficking situation was until they heard a PAVSA member speak at Tunell’s church.

“We wanted the community to know more about this fantastic organization that does so much for us,” Tunell said.

When she heard the teens were planning a run in the Tri-Lakes neighborhood, Julie Kantarik said, “I thought it was fabulous.”

One of their senior project mentors, Nicky Wilson, called the teens “go-getters.” With little guidance, they took off running with the project. The best thing Tunell learned through the process was how supportive the community is. As the teens asked around for help from local businesses, they got a terrific response.

“It was so awesome seeing our community come together for the goal of success in our 5K,” Tunell said.

Students at Superior High School must complete a senior project to graduate. They can choose to research a career, learn a new skill or assist the community in some way. Students have to secure a mentor, get their project approved and spend at least 20 hours on it. This is the second time Wilson has been a senior project mentor.

“They have both been great experiences,” she said. “It has allowed me to get connect to these students in a different way and really have a better connected to the great things these students are working on at SHS.”

When they first started working on the project, Lisak thought it would be an added burden to an already full senior year. But she changed her mind after sinking more than 60 hours into organizing the run.

“Twenty hours is not that much at all,” Lisak said. “It’s a good learning experience for everybody. I’m glad they’re pushing us to do this.”

It’s been a challenge to get all the little details in place, the teens said, but they’re looking forward to seeing the event take shape Aug. 16. They chose to host a 5K because such runs are popular. It also gave them a chance to showcase the neighborhood.

“It’s so beautiful out there,” Lisak said. “I wanted people to really see our little community out there. We’re just a big family.”

The route the girls have mapped out circles Dowling Lake with a quick jog along Tri Lakes Road.

“It’s a gorgeous path that they chose,” said Kantarik, a volunteer with the Tri Lakes Community Center. The paved road is lined by trees and offers views of both Dowling and Amnicon lakes. There are some hills, she warned. She encouraged participants to stick around after the event for the community center’s annual Pig and Corn Roast, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at 7872 S. County Road A. The free event includes more than food. Visitors can try their hand at horseshoes or a bean bag toss while kids enjoy the newly installed playground equipment.

The civic center offers a host of annual events, including a fisharama in February, a soup supper in October and Fourth of July activities ranging from fireworks and a parade to a golf scramble.

Shirts Unlimited is printing T-shirts for the 5K, based on a design by Tunell and Lisak. They will come in neon orange, pink and blue to light up the course. Children and strollers are welcome at the race. Pets are not. Anyone who signs up for the race by Saturday will be sure to get a shirt in their preferred color and size, but entrants can also register the day of the event. The cost to enter is $20 per person, with all proceeds going to PAVSA. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 16 at Dee’s Pub on the Curve, 4705 E. Tri Lakes Road, with the race beginning and ending at the pub. The registration form and information on the race is available at