Xenos ministry partner Gracehaven recently opened a new residential facility, fulfilling a long-term plan to help underage victims of sex trafficking in Central Ohio. Annette Vasulka with Gracehaven shares with us more about the journey to this achievement.
Gracehaven actually began in 2004 with a phone call.
Dr. Jeff Barrows, an OB-GYN in Bellefontaine, learned about the dire plight of young girls in Asia who were victims of child sex-trafficking and wanted to help. But during a phone conversation with Adam Freer of the Salvation Army he learned that there were girls in Ohio--as many as 1,000-2,000--who also were victimized for sex. And very few people were doing anything about it.
“At that moment God called me to start a home here in Ohio for girls under 18 who were victims of sex trafficking...and He wanted the home called ‘Gracehaven.’"
Xenos played a critical role during these early years. Bev DeLashmutt joined the first Board of Trustees and was a passionate advocate for this mission. Many Xenos members provided the funding to get the work off the ground. And we are so thankful for the many volunteers, supporters and Board members from our fellowship who have served through the years.Looking back at the last 15 years, we can clearly see how God has empowered Gracehaven to serve these young victims of sex trafficking in both residential care and in the community.
Our case managers work with youth who have been victimized but who still live in the community (foster care, group home, detention). These social workers come alongside and help with whatever the girls need whether food, clothing, prepping for job interviews, etc. And during their time together they help the girls process their trauma and work toward healing.
We also have a robust prevention education outreach to schools, churches, community groups – anyone who wants to learn how to spot the red flags of trafficking and what they can do to prevent it. Our Prevention Education Coordinator, Stephanie Rollins, is a 20-year trafficking survivor and brings a personal and honest perspective to these presentations.
And in August of 2015 we officially opened the Gracehaven House. A committed team of resident assistants, social workers, therapists, staff and volunteers provide intensive trauma-informed care. These girls are traumatized beyond imagination, some as young as 12 or 13. They need consistent, loving care. They spend anywhere from a few weeks to nine months in the house, and many experience healing to the point they can take the next step in their recovery.
One girl who improved under our care is "Amber." When she came to Gracehaven she was so traumatized she hardly spoke and coped through angry outbursts and self-harm. But as she learned healthy relating and coping skills she blossomed into the bubbly girl who could make everyone laugh. And most importantly, she received Christ as her savior. She said this about everyone at Gracehaven who walked this journey with her: “You all have been there through everything. I thank God for sending me here! Thank you for taking your time and patience to help me grow and become a way better person than I was before.”
During the last three and a half years we’ve learned many important lessons about residential care. And those lessons have driven an exciting change in Gracehaven’s work.
We’re excited at the possibility to help so many more teens. We truly believe God has orchestrated this entire process. And we look forward to involving many more people who are passionate about this mission as tutors, mentors and house moms.
Gracehaven’s long-term goal is clear--to serve every teenager in Central Ohio who is a victim of child sex-trafficking.
“When Jesus talked about ‘widows and orphans,’ He meant the vulnerable and powerless of society, people who don’t have a voice for themselves,” says Executive Director Scott Arnold. “I believe today’s ‘widows and orphans’ include these young girls who have been victimized by the child sex trafficking trade. And Gracehaven is committed to doing everything within our means to help them escape the life and heal from their trauma.”
We have a lease-to-own agreement with this new campus, and are currently fundraising so we can purchase the property, renovate existing buildings and build more structures.