The Wholehearted Hero: Natalie Garnett

This series has become one of my highlights each month as I get to interview some of my real-life heroes. I am so honored to feature my friend and old roommate, Natalie Garnett at September's Wholehearted Hero. Natalie is just an impressive person, but more than that, she's a great friend. 

One of my most defining moments with Natalie happened last summer after we both got dumped just a day apart. Even in her own grief, Natalie managed to comfort, love, and distract me during that process. She even left chocolate and a sweet outside my door the next morning. Who doesn't want a friend like that?! She also kicks butt at her job and has been affectionately been named the "Hottie Abolitionist". Keep reading to find out why. :) 

1. Hi Natalie! I've had the privilege of seeing your life up close for the past few years and am consistently incredibly inspired by you. Can you give us a glimpse into your life now? And what are you doing in this season of life that you're really loving right now?

I’m entering my ninth year living in my college and now young-professional town - Waco, Texas. If you’d told me I’d still be in Waco in 2017 a few years ago, I’d probably have freaked. But now that it’s 2017, and I’m actually here, I see what an incredible gift it is. I’m really loving the fact that I run into friends in my Piyo class, at the grocery store, in church, at Chuy’s, really wherever. And although I don’t think Waco is my forever home, I’m savoring the charm of living wrapped in community and pretty proud of the growth I’ve gotten to be part of here.

I’m also entering my fourth year in my job as Assistant National Director of a local anti-human organization called UnBound. I’m consistently challenged and kept on my toes. I deeply believe in the work we do and am proud of the impact we’ve had in our community. I love getting to empower our awesome volunteers, coordinate our human trafficking coalition and work within the local church.

2. Take us a little bit into your professional journey. How did you land the job you are currently in and what's your favorite part about your job? Hardest part?

I graduated from Baylor University in 2012 with a degree in Journalism, PR & New Media and a minor in Social Work. From there, I spent four months interning at International Justice Mission headquarters in Washington, DC, where I worked as the communications editorial intern. In a surprising (to me) turn of events, I ended up back in Waco next to do the Antioch Discipleship School and did administration and customer service at a property management company. I’d been involved in UnBound in college and jumped back in when I moved back to Waco, and by spring of my discipleship school year, my now-boss came and asked me to work for UnBound. My goal all along had been to work in leadership of a human rights focused non-profit, but I was convinced at the time I needed some corporate, “real-world” experience to prepare me for that.

When Susan (our executive director), told me I could make up my own job description and help shape UnBound, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of. I’ve had a lot of “how am I old enough for this” and “what do I actually know about anything” moments over the past three years, but I’m really, really thankful I took that risk and jumped right into the formation stages of this awesome ministry. Looking back, it seems so obvious how God was leading me from one step to the next to set me up for where I am now. Looking back, I can also see how I have a bad habit of trying to interfere with the process. But we’re working on that.

My favorite part of my job -- I have ideas and get to turn them into realities. It really is so rewarding and exciting to have the support and work environment to shape projects and programs and see the impact so quickly. The hardest part is balancing multiple roles and not always feeling I can give my all to any one area. This leads to a lot of “coulds” and “shoulds” -- I could strengthen our social media platforms, I should send more regular newsletters, I could be more proactive in, I should (insert limitless list). My boss does a great job reminding me that being spread thin is sometimes part of being in leadership, and I have to let what I do each day be enough.

3. How are you seeing real life transformation in your job? And how are you directly involved? What do you do on a regular basis that yields rewarding results?

Working with people in major trauma definitely has challenges, but I’m consistently amazed at the resilience of the clients we serve in staying alive through what’s happened to them and fighting for recovery afterward. In 2017, UnBound has served 38 victims and survivors of trafficking in Waco (so far).

Although my role is more heavy on the organizational development and training side, the work that I do on my computer and with our constituents directly results in identification and awareness that leads to reports and rescues, not to mention the funding and systems that make it possible. My interaction with survivors is limited, but being part of their stories of rescue and recovery is very rewarding.

For example, in mid-September two girls from Central America made an outcry at their school. The investigation led to the discovery that their mom was a victim of labor trafficking and the daughters were likely being groomed for sex trafficking. We were able to intervene and get them to safety, meeting their tangible needs alongside law enforcement and other service providers.

4. Can you identify some common misconceptions about fighting sex trafficking and how you and your coworkers strive to overcome those?

The most common misconception is that sex trafficking is something that just happens on the other side of the world. Our awareness campaigns focus heavily on educating people on the impact of trafficking locally. People also often assume sex trafficking victims are all females. We serve victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and we see victims who are both male and female.

Another one that comes to mind is that when we talk about being an anti-trafficking organization, people automatically think that means we have an aftercare home for survivors. Although aftercare is a vital part of the recovery journey, we’re working specifically to prevent trafficking from happening and empower community members and professionals to identify and serve victims.

5. How have you found vision in your job in the mundane? Oftentimes our cause-motivated generation is guilty of grabbing hold of work with obvious purpose and letting go of tasks that feel irrelevant. Have you experienced this? Is your job always inspiring and rewarding? If not, do you have any encouragement to offer?

When I say I love my job, that doesn’t mean I love sitting in an office answering emails all day. It doesn’t mean I love collecting and analyzing data to submit for our federal grant funding. A lot of the work is mundane! But I really believe in the mission I am a part of, the people I am working with, and the need for what we’re doing in our community. I try to work into my schedule opportunities for me to get time with youth in juvenile detention or give a training to community professionals to help remind me how important this work is, especially when I can feel my vision or passion waning. I think it’s important to identify early on what the resources and tools are around you in your workplace to keep you filled up. I know I’m in the right position within my organization, but stepping into one of my co-worker’s or volunteer’s role can give me a helpful perspective shift when needed.

6. How have you found purpose in your single years as a young adult? I know this is often a messy journey (for myself included), but what advice would you give to someone struggling to find vision for their single season of life?

Haha, do we have to go in this direction? JK, happy to share. Being single in my mid-to- late twenties has been a challenge. It’s not what I imagined for myself. Like many people (maybe especially from college towns in the South), most of my college roommates and best friends are now married and on their first or second child, and that can make me feel pretty behind sometimes. I’ve been a bridesmaid 13 times and been through more a few too many breakups. BUT. When I stop and think about it, I’m honestly thankful for the journey. My life is rich in relationship and rich in opportunity. I’ve been practicing using the ache that singleness can bring to push me into things I want to be -- more deeply devoted to Jesus, a more present friend, a more involved community member.

About a year ago I asked a friend a few years older how she stayed positive in singleness, and her answer stuck with me. She said if you’re going to be single, you might as well be happy in it. Happy is more attractive to people (including potential romantic relationships) than miserable is. I liked that. I also have a quote on the wall in my room that says, “I am in charge of how I feel, and today I am choosing happiness.” Life is full of choices. I think how we handle singleness is one of those choices. I’d also recommend finding a friend or two who will listen to you bemoan your existence and give you a pep talk when that choice is feeling impossible. :)

7. You are one of my role models for work/life balance. How and why do you make this a priority in your life?

Thanks! For me, the key to balance has been to cut comparison and take responsibility for my own life. There are always going to be people who can do more (or less) than me. There are always going to be invitations and requests and opportunities to do more. There’s always going to be more work to be done. And there is always going to be a strong internal pull to lay in my bed and eat tater tots (my true love) and watch Netflix. I’m constantly learning and shifting, but I try to hit the mark of being diligent with my work and commitments, doing what I feel is right and peaceful and sustainable for me, and also knowing when I need to sacrifice and push myself. It’s also important to receive feedback from the people who see how you live, as it’s easy to be blind or biased either way.

8. Speaking of balance, I always ask my guests about their life rhythms. Can you tell us some daily, weekly, or monthly rhythms you prioritize in your life to help you live wholeheartedly?

Daily - My morning routine is important to me. I wake up, make my bed, wash my face, make breakfast and coffee, spend some time reading my Bible, praying and journaling, then get ready for work. I also try to get in bed early enough to read a book I enjoy until I fall asleep. The way I start and end my days makes a difference in how I feel for the in between hours.

Weekly - Exercise and rest are (increasingly) important rhythms for me. Exercise became a habit for me when my mindset shifted from my physical appearance (“I want to look good”) to my mental health (“I want to feel good”). I’m now exploring ways to integrate the discipline of Sabbath.

Monthly - It’s helpful for me to get out of town about once a month when I can. Whether that’s a day in Austin, a weekend visiting my parents in Dallas, or a trip out of state, there’s a lot of routine in my regular life and it’s refreshing for me to break it up.

9. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? 

I think we learn to live wholeheartedly out of the push and pull of an aware, open, given life. I want to live aware of my unique self and my needs, strengths and weaknesses. I want to live open to the feedback, encouragement and challenge of like-hearted, trustworthy relationships. And I want to live given to the people around me, the mission I’m a part of and the calling on my life.

10. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast?

I just finished “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Pete Scazzero, and I am currently reading “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist. Both are challenging and refreshing perspectives on how to sustain a life of serving and loving people. I also come back often to Christa Black Gifford’s “Head to Heart” podcast. All three of those authors/speakers hit a place of exhaustion/burnout in their own lives which inspired their approaches to wholehearted living. I’d rather learn from them early on than repeat their experiences.

11. Lastly, is there something we can do today to join the fight to end human trafficking? 

Yes! My three challenges to everyone are to learn, serve and give. Learn what trafficking looks like in your community and share what you know. I’ve seen first hand that awareness saves lives. Find an organization in your community that is serving trafficking victims. Whether you volunteer every week or once a year at an event (like the Light Up the Dark 5K), serve if you can. UnBound has chapters across the United States, and there are a lot of other orgs out there doing incredible work. And give! It takes a lot of time and resources to effectively fight trafficking. You can become an Ignite Partner with UnBound through a donation of $22/month, and you’ll get special updates as we work to ignite hope in the lives of trafficking survivors.


Natalie Garnett is the Assistant National Director of UnBound, an anti-human trafficking organization founded in Waco, Texas, in 2012. Natalie also provides oversight to UnBound's other chapters in six U.S. cities and Mongolia, and serves as the coordinator of the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition. Natalie has provided training to hundreds of professionals and worked with dozens of human trafficking victims and survivors in her role, and is passionate about seeing communities activated to fight human trafficking.