Allison Phillips’ degree in criminal justice marks a turn-around from an earlier career as a bush pilot

Alison Phillips with her daughter, Sonum, whose adoption from India  provided the impetus to Alison’s seeking a degree in criminal justice.
Alison Phillips with her daughter, Sonum, whose adoption from India provided the impetus to Alison’s seeking a degree in criminal justice.

By Leanna Walters

Alison Coordes Phillips, Lake Quivira mother of three, recently earned a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from UMKC (see page 15).
Before Alison moved to Lake Quivira nearly thirteen years ago, she was a bush pilot in Alaska. What was it that made Alison decide she wanted to do a complete about-face in her life?
“Life comes at us in seasons,” says Alison. “It was time to start another chapter.”
She loved the environment of the Prudhoe oil fields of Alaska and the diverse set of experiences she was allowed as a pilot there. No routine schedules for her! Her husband, Sean, also a pilot, was a smoke jumper, and sometimes gone half the year. “Kids were not part of our life plan,” recalls Alison of that time in her life.

Alison in 2002 in Eek, Alaska, a tiny, Yupiak village in western Alaska. The aircraft she flew was a DeHavilland Twin Otter, which. could take off and land in short distances and could carry lots of weight. Eek had a dirt, 900’ runway with a river bank at the end.
Alison in 2002 in Eek, Alaska, a tiny, Yupiak village in western Alaska. The aircraft she flew was a DeHavilland Twin Otter, which. could take off and land in short distances and could carry lots of weight. Eek had a dirt, 900’ runway with a river bank at the end.

Then kids did become part of the life plan. Jackson was born in Alaska, but Alison and Sean wanted their kids to know family. Alison had grown up in Colorado. Sean was from Shawnee and was familiar with LQ through his friendships with Ben Kalny, Charlie Gomer and others. It seemed like a wonderful place to raise a family—friendly, safe and secure.
Alison and Sean felt blessed with the birth of their two boys, Jackson and Paul, and wished to share their love with a baby from India, an arduous, three-year adoption process before little Sonam finally joined them at Lake Quivira.
It was during those three years of investigating orphanages in India that Alison became aware of the rampant problem of trafficking of young girls and sought out organizations dealing with the problem of sexual trafficking to learn more.
Through her research she found the problem was closer to home than she had envisioned. One need not live in India to experience workplace harassment, assault at parties, date rape, sexual violence, domestic abuse, pornography, Internet predators—they’re all forms of exploitation. “Spend any time with a group of women, and the stories come out,” she says. Recently a social worker at the KC Rescue Mission was asked about the prevalence of trafficking within their population. “All of our women have been trafficked,” she answered.
And it starts with the young. “One out of four girls and one out of six boys will experience sexual assault before age 18,” says Alison.
Even in the friendly, safe and secure environment of Lake Quivira? “Smart phones level the playing field for predators looking for kids,” says Alison. “The front gate is no deterrent to the Internet. If anything, the front gate may make kids here more naïve and vulnerable, thinking evil is ‘out there.’”
Alison is heartened when she reads that for the first time in many years, the number of flip phones sold is growing. If your kids need a phone–Alison admits there are legitimate reasons they might—she implores parents to buy them flip phones.
She connected with local groups such as Restoration, which takes a holistic approach to helping sexually abused women build better lives—first through providing safe housing, then by addressing health needs, therapy, a support system and good employment.
Another group she is associated with is KC Street Hope, whose mission statement reads as follows: “We exist to help individuals and organizations who fight sex trafficking in the areas of advocacy, prevention and restoration. Our role is to create awareness and to mobilize community resources where they are most needed, at the time they are most needed. Our ultimate goal is to help end sex trafficking, including domestic minor sex trafficking, in the greater Kansas City area.”
But she was also discovering the need for legal reform. “If laws work against us, it won’t work,” she says. “Women can be arrested for the same things they are victimized for. We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.”
Aptitude tests Alison took as an undergraduate showed law enforcement could be a good match for her personality and skills. “My parents did a nice job of making me think I could do what I set my mind to,” said Alison. And being a woman pilot in a male-dominated profession had further bolstered her confidence.
After much soul searching, Alison made the decision to enter the Criminal Justice degree program at UMKC, thereby increasing her ability to effect change. She doesn’t necessarily see herself in a Police uniform anytime soon. Rather, she is finding ways to combine resources of community groups to work with law enforcement and vice versa.

Billboard in Westport
Billboard in Westport

She is a tireless speaker at shelters, schools and churches. Recently her networking paid off when Quiviran Megan Treas, armed with a fresh nursing degree to go with her degree in psychology (see page 16), approached Alison about empty billboards and the possibility to spread the word writ large. It turned out another Quiviran, Howard Fowler, is with Outfront Media, and he arranged for Alison and Megan to meet with the woman at Outfront who handles the budget for billboard community service.
With Megan helping with the legwork and artwork, and through a Gofundme site, enough money was raised to place public service announcements about the consequences of purchasing sex on several vinyl billboards and electronic message boards around town.
Megan, a nurse with a penchant for community service, has also convinced the Jackson County County Jail they need an educational piece for inmates and jail workers. And the circle grows.
In a recent Facebook post, Alison wrote, “I’m super blessed to have such a great support network of family and friends, especially my husband, who always cheered me on! It feels great to have finished. There were many moments of doubt. My degree is a Master of Science-Criminal Justice & Criminology. As for what is next, UMKC hired me to teach an elective on human trafficking for Criminal Justice and Sociology majors starting this fall. They also want to talk about future ideas for my department to engage on this issue.
“I’m very excited to see where these open doors lead.”