Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am a native Chicagoan. Born on the Southside, raised in the northwest suburbs, lived in the city in my twenties and then the North Shore (Winnetka), where we raised our kids for 9 years. All of that before deciding to bow out, get off the hamster wheel and take it down a notch. Our friends and family thought we were a bit nuts when in 2009 we simply moved to Florida to live the beach life and slow down! Ironic how far from the truth that ended up being.
What were the circumstances that led you to start Selah Freedom?
I certainly was not looking for it, rather I had a good group of friends from Chicago that wanted to do a women’s event in my new home of Sarasota, Florida. In asking around and looking for an underdog charity to hold up to attendees, I was informed that we should hold up the issue that American children were being sold for sex. I had no idea this was an issue- as the term “human trafficking” in my mind was tied to white vans or cages, Cambodia and completely an international issue. When I shared with our leadership team what I was told- by the two that are now my co-founders- that human trafficking is in America. They knew we needed to do something- their desire was to give them a home. A safe house to heal. We decided to hold up the issue and that goal at our first two events. I have never seen such a strong reaction, women heard about what was happening and immediately wanted to make something happen- it was the beginning of a movement. I never dreamed that it would turn into what it is today, a multi-city, amazing solution to the darkest secret we have going in America. I’m working harder than I ever have, but I love it- there is no greater purpose than to give someone back their life and all that was stolen.
When you talk to people about Selah Freedom, what is their initial reaction? Do you find that many are unaware of the how far-reaching the issue of sex trafficking is in the United States?
Absolutely! Every time I run through the stats: that 1 out of 3 little girls, and 1 out of 5 boys, in America is sexually abused by someone they “know” as young as 2-4 years of age and told for years to keep that secret. People are in disbelief right there.
But when I go on to share that statistics show us that by 12-14 years of age they can no longer keep this dark secret and “something” gives! A good number at this time simply run away - believing whatever is on the streets has to be better than what they face every day with their abuser. We also know statistically that within 48 hours 80 percent of runaways are approached by a pimp or trafficker. These predators then through coercion lead these vulnerable children into the sex trade, where they typically remain for seven years, being sold on average 15-40 times a day. At that point, people just stare in disbelief and then always ask, you mean foreign children right? It is hard for them to grasp the truth that over 300,000 of our own American kids are sold in this trade in America every year. I say it is America’s best kept secret. And one of the most profitable.
Selah Freedom is planning to establish a presence in Chicago. Can you talk a bit about the problem of sex trafficking here in the city and what the goals are to address the issue here?
Sadly Chicago is one of the top five cities in America for this problem and even more heartbreaking is that we currently have only a small home for minors and zero beds for those sex trafficking survivors who are over 18. Chicago has some of the best resources and lawmakers in this area, and experts like the teams at CAASE (Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation), The Dreamcatcher Foundation and Stop IT Now and many more, are doing amazing things to provide resources and services to this population once rescued, but there are no long term solutions in the city, which means the girls end up right back in the sex trade, as there is no place to go to be safe, heal and begin a new life. We have taken some girls from the Chicago area through assessment in our Florida program. But Chicago is such a great city- we are thrilled to be able to open housing here and start making it the solution center it should be.
Our first goal is to raise $280,000 to open the first phase of our residential program, ideally on the north side of the city or Evanston. We have had homes donated in the past- and hope this happens in Chicagoland- a 3-4 bedroom home is all we need to begin, even rent free for one year is a huge gift- and a great tax write off for the donor. Instantly six women will be given a new start in life- and the momentum begins to engage the community and grow the accommodate more.
What are your short and long-term goals for Selah Freedom? What can people do to help?
We have been given a matching challenge of $70,000 to kick off Chicago- we need to match this amount very quickly. Then with $140,000 we will be half way to our $280,000 launch goal. This can be achieved so easily if everyone whose heart is touched makes a gift of any amount- that is only 70 people at $1000 - or a few larger gifts. We are also training a team for our speakers bureau, we are already getting many requests to educate and share more in Chicago. We also are looking for a volunteer coordinator- as we have over 300 volunteers in our Florida program- it is like re-parenting- it takes a village for sure! Once the girls come in they start with an education assessment and are given either a career or college path- many have never learned the most basic life skills. We need volunteers from tutors to mentors, teaching everything from how to clean a fridge, how to dress, we offer puppy therapy, art therapy, craft classes- horse therapy,music- everything we gave our own children is returned to these precious lives. We need the gifts of every individual to offer them all that was stolen, all of this in addition to the trauma therapy and clinical work we offer.
We like to say - Raise your Voice, Raise your Hand or Raise your Resources… Right now the greatest help is getting the word out- if you have a venue or group that we can speak to, rotary, women’s or men's groups, junior leagues, churches/synagogues…and of course- help us financially.
Learn more about Selah Freedom and how you can help here.