Enter Love Can't Be Baht - "Baht" being a wordplay on the currency of Thailand - a nonprofit group from Danville, Ind. currently traveling the Midwest, selling t-shirts to raise money in support of victims of human trafficking.
The group started in 2008 with Tyler Yentes, after he saw the documentary Baht. Yentes' youth shows in his face and clothes: a faded red v-neck with skinny jeans cut to shorts. He's only 19, but what he lacks in age and experience, he seems to make up for in earnest, understated passion.
"I thought I was just going to create some t-shirts," Yentes says of Love Can't Be Baht's early years. "I was going to go to a concert or two and maybe sell a hundred shirts, then probably call it quits because the buzz would be over. No one would care after that."
But word got out among his community. Yentes decided to go full-time with LCBB.
Alongside the merch table
LCBB has found its greatest success in putting their message across at concerts and music festivals. They recently wrapped up their Summer of Love Tour, a jaunt across the region with local bands News From Verona and The Holiday. LCBB has also made appearances at Warped Tour and the Agape and Ichthus music festivals.
The group has worked with well-known acts like Jack's Mannequin, Sing It Loud and The Academy Is..., through no special means other than having the chutzpah to ask, or confidently walk through security gates.
"At Agape, we just pretended we were with the bands, and we got to go backstage," says volunteer Chris Skiles. The group had made press badges for their Summer of Love tour. "We made these so we'd look important," he says.
Nikki Cullison, a junior at Purdue and LCBB volunteer, describes their base of operations as "any place with free wi-fi," with members' parents' homes serving as free storage space. She joined Yentes, as well as six others, on the Summer of Love Tour.
"We slept in Wal-Mart parking lots, ate Taco Bell every meal. So many people were just willing to help or let us crash on their floor for the night, even after just meeting them," Cullison laughs.
"It was a totally different experience, something we'd never done before, but I don't think either of us would have traded it for the world," Yentes adds.
"We basically gave up our summer. We're not getting real summer jobs or internships, so we're spending our whole summer doing this, whether it be promoting Love Can't Be Baht, speaking at churches or music festivals," Cullison says.
"Usually the response we get is, 'Oh that's a cool cause. I'll take a brochure, and think about it at home,' but when we went to Agape recently, we actually sold out of everything. There was a huge positive response from the crowd. It was amazing," Skiles says.
T-shirt shortages have forced some tough decisions. "Three little girls, probably 7 or 8 years old, came up and said, 'We only have $8,'" Yentes recalls. Having only one shirt, size XXL, left, Yentes did what any savvy businessman would do. "I said, 'You can all wear this together and I'll sell it to you for $8.' So they put it on together. It was the funniest thing."
Refreshing corporate money
While the LCBB has organized a summer's worth of events, including repeat visits and new festivals, one element remains in the air. The organization is vying for a grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project, an initiative to award $1.3 million dollars worth of grants to non-profits, with winners selected by online voting.
Their master plan? To start a coffee shop and music venue in downtown Indianapolis. The profits will go to support a safe house in Southeast Asia for victims of human trafficking. They call it the Uptown Loft project.
"You're building something to sustain something, which I think is the key," Yentes says, "It will be a constant source of income for the house." Currently, all of LCBB's proceeds benefit the Rapha House, an established sanctuary. "It [the Uptown Loft] gives a way for the community to get involved, but it also gives back to the community. It's going to give a place for people to come hang out, for people to come check out a show."
Voting for LCBB and the Uptown Loft project is open until June 30. Users can cast one vote per day, per email address. Up to 32 organizations will receive a grant. Those wanting to cast a vote can go to www.refresheverything.com/lovecantbebaht.
Even if the Pepsi grant falls through, Yentes is hopeful. "We're definitely excited about Uptown Loft. It's definitely something that will happen no matter what. Just timing-wise, we're not sure."
A sense of balance
LCBB is still a fledgling organization. With only four permanent members, all college students, even the kindness of strangers - or $250,000 of grant money - can't meet all their needs. But they know that, agreeing that more education is imperative to continue their crusade and open their coffee house. In the meantime, it will be balancing tour schedules and benefit concerts with classes.
Members maintain that their cause is about more than T-shirts or trendiness.
"You could argue that it's a trend, but you could also argue that maybe just none of the other generations did anything about it, so it's time for someone to step in and do something," Yentes says.
Yentes believes his fight is about more than just fighting human trafficking.
"I just encourage young people to realize how good we have it in America and realize that we are in a position that we can make a difference... That doesn't mean you have to buy a Love Can't Be Baht t-shirt. If you'd rather do a benefit concert for the AIDS epidemic, go for it. Equally as much, I just want to encourage people to find an injustice you're passionate about, and couple it with something you love to do. That just happened to be music for us," Yentes says.