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Elizabeth Smart Foundation merges with Operation Underground Railroad to fight human trafficking

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Twelve years ago Thursday, Elizabeth Smart was reunited with her family after being kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City and held captive for nine months. Since then, Smart launched a foundation that works to help protect and save abused children, and now that foundation is merging with another Utah based group with similar goals.

The Elizabeth Smart Foundation and Operation Underground Railroad have announced that they will now be working hand-in-hand in a joint effort to save children by merging the two organizations.

Operation Underground Railroad began partnering with governments around the world in 2013 in order to rescue children from sexual slavery. The group has been in the news recently, as video of their undercover operations have been released. Their most recent rescue was Wednesday, and 29 victims, the youngest of whom was 13, were rescued. Six traffickers were arrested as well.

But, after the children are rescued, they need help recovering, and that's where the Elizabeth Smart Foundation comes into play: To help children and those abused to not only survive, but thrive.

Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, came on as the director for the prevention and rehabilitation at Operation Underground Railroad, and he soon had the idea of merging the two similar-minded, non-profit organizations to join forces to save children.

“We can't just stick our heads in the sand and pretend like it's not there,” Ed Smart said of the issue of human trafficking. “Dealing with it and helping to control it and stop it is really an important factor that, if we all work together, the impact is going to be much greater than one here and one there.”

The official announcement of the merger will be Saturday night at a benefit concert that will feature local musicians. Ticket sales will help raise funds for future operations to rescue children. For more information about the Utah’s Stars & Friends Showcase, click here.