Our History

Co-Founder Merrie shares: The year was 1997 when an opportunity arose to move to the Rampart District of inner-city Los Angeles (which at the time was the 7 deadliest square miles of the United States) to do a school internship over the summer with a nonprofit designed to serve those society had marginalized …

I’ll never forget the night my life was forever changed by a young, 15 yr old runaway who’d come to Hollywood to make a name for herself. She wanted to see her name in lights and instead ended up selling her body to survive. We picked her up on Sunset Blvd and offered her a warm place to sleep and a hot meal. She agreed to join us at the crisis care center and submit to our rules. She was severely bruised and about 5 months pregnant. Over the coming weeks she decided to stay with us and I became her mentor (in that particular program at the time, it meant I was assigned to be with her 24/7). I thought we were getting along pretty well, until one night… when she ran away again. I woke up that morning and was devastated, heartbroken really, I felt completely defeated. A week or so later, as our team headed back out to the streets of Hollywood, we ran into another young girl that said she’d seen my friend on the streets; I’d helped her clean up so she could go back out and make more money…

That was the beginning of a very LONG journey toward learning what tough love, and healthy bonding and boundaries look like. We can have the best intentions but without understanding how we can help and not hurt, we often do more harm than good.

Fast forward a few years, I’d completed my degree and was invited to work with another nonprofit, this time in Moscow, Russia. I’d been in my new apartment for about 2 weeks when I walked out on the balcony one night, looked down at the alley way and saw a scene that will forever be ingrained in my memory… there was a row of young women lined up with a car on either side shining it’s headlights on them… there was a man (a pimp/trafficker) walking up and down the line checking the women over as they prepared to go out to work for the night. I remember thinking and praying, someone has got to help these women…

I lived in Russia for 5 ó years, this is where I met my husband and together we worked with youth and street orphans – teaching them about their worth, their value, and creating opportunities for them to use their gifts and talents in a positive way, in an effort to help prevent them from falling into this type of future…

In 2015, I returned to Russia for the first time in 9 years; I’d arranged a meeting with a group of people that are part of a grassroots organization, helping victims of sex trafficking – as I listened to the stories of what was happening, I realized that this crime does not discriminate – it happens in every culture and context, every race, every ethnicity and socio-economic group – no one is immune. It’s been happening since before we even used terminology like “trafficking” and it’s the fastest growing crime around the globe. Why? Because when you use people, you don’t have to replace them (like you do with drugs and guns) – you can reuse them over and over and over again.

As we shared our story, I spoke of how I saw the scene from my balcony play-out out time and again, we shared of our work with young people & street orphans in an effort to educate them and prevent this type of thing from happening to them. After we shared there was a long pause – the team leader and his wife began to get choked up. He asked, “do you remember a little yellow Neva?” (A Neva is a Russian make of car) – Racking my brain, I thought, what is he talking about?

He went on to say… I was the pimp responsible for the girls at that exact location in the city where you lived and were praying during those years. My life has changed and I am now going in and helping to rescue these girls.

I couldn’t believe it… What were the chances that I was having this conversation, with this man, over 15 yrs after living in that place and praying that somehow God would rescue these girls? I was dumbfounded (to say the least) – my head was spinning as I excused myself and went to the restroom. Looking in the mirror and splashing my face with water, I thought, did I hear him correctly? How was it possible that our paths have now crossed and what did this mean…?

As I walked out of the restroom, his wife was standing there. She pulled me aside to tell me that she had been one of those women I saw in that alley way when I lived there; and now that she’d been rescued she was going back in to help others.

Finally, a few months after that I was leading a women’s mentoring program right here in Orlando; one of our participants requested a meeting with me. We sat in a cafe as she shared her story of being trafficked, moved from CA, to TX, to FL. She shared how she’d tried to escape her trafficker on numerous occasions; she ran away twice only to be picked up again and brutally beaten. She’d only been free for about 6 months… I walked out of that cafe and for the next three days I was undone. I just knew deep down it was time to do something.

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