Dear Courage Worldwide Supporter,
My heart is heavy as I write my year-end update. A four-year-old little girl was rescued by law enforcement last week in Houston, Texas after being repeatedly sold for sex. She was advertised on Craig’s List. According to the media, the man selling her has been arrested. Thank God! In moments like these I wonder, “What would I do if this was my child?” I know my answer—anything—everything. I would be shameless in asking anyone and everyone for their help, their influence, even their money. What about you?
News reports like this one flood my inbox. Outraged, my first thought is always the same, “Where did they take the child?” because I know all too well how few homes exist that are able to meet her unique needs. Since opening our two Courage Houses in 2011, we have said no to over three hundred children who have been sexually exploited in this way because we were at capacity. While a part of me wants to curl up in a ball and sob over this fact, another part uses the indignation I feel to strengthen my resolve to stop this evil against our most vulnerable. We at Courage Worldwide are committed to our vision of engaging 1,000,000 people to build 1,000 homes and centers in 100 countries during the next 10 years, so that hundreds of thousands of children can be protected and set free.
To realize this vision, we will need your support and partnership. Sometimes the work we do can feel very lonely. I know many of you pray for us, volunteer, and give financially. Thank you! All are necessary for the work we are called to do. In this letter, I want to update you on that work—our successes, struggles, and greatest need(s) for the upcoming year.
Success. We still struggle with that word. On some days and for some of our girls, success simply means breathing. On other days and for other girls, it means not cutting. For one girl that could mean choosing to attend school after being awake all night with flashbacks and for another it could mean trusting her therapist enough to tell her the first time she experienced violence in her life. We have learned to celebrate the simplest success. Helping staff cook dinner. Feeding the horses. Making a bed. Doing homework. Exercising. Taking a walk with the dogs. Participating in art or music therapy. Making healthy choices daily, while choosing to stay at Courage House, takes a tremendous act of faith and courage for our girls. This is what we call success!
Another success we were so humbled by was being selected as one of five organizations to participate in a three-year mental health study, documenting our outcomes with minor victims of sex trafficking. One mental health professional that provides oversight for our therapeutic program and heads up this study, said the following about our work:
“Courage House has no peers in the United States. It is the first program of its kind to utilize best and promising practices while documenting outcomes that have not yet been realized with minor victims of sex trafficking.”
Here are a few of the published outcomes from Courage House:
• Only 1 run-away attempt within the last 32 months.
• Only 1 9-1-1 call within the last 24 months.
• Only 1 violent incident within the last 24 months.
• Only 1 case of property damage within the last 23 months.
• A 100% increase in grade point averages.
• A 70% reduction of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
These successes are unprecedented and undocumented with the population we serve!
In addition, some of our girls have transitioned to schools and families outside of the Courage House campus, some have passed their test for a driver’s permit, and some have even had the opportunity to attend Homecoming with new friends. Success!
Success is also happening with our Northern California campus expansion plans. Thanks to our incredible volunteer team of professionals, we have drilled a water well (required before we start building more homes), finalized construction documents for our first cottage, and reduced the estimated construction cost of the cottage due to an outpouring of in-kind and material donations from the construction community—all of which has accelerated our ability to build more homes. An application for a building permit has been submitted to the county and due to the generous support of Bayside Church, we hope to break ground on the first of two cottages in the first quarter of 2016. Thanks to the commitment of the Sacramento Rotary Club, we anticipate breaking ground on the second cottage late second quarter, 2016!
As I continue to reflect on 2015, I have pondered about what has allowed us to have the greatest impact and outcomes on the lives of the children we serve. Is it programs, policies, or procedures? We have very good ones; but it is not those alone. I have concluded that our success, progress, and outcomes must be attributed to our greatest asset—our people, the staff, and faithful volunteers who dedicate their lives to bring health and wholeness to the children who call Courage House home. Also, people like you, who have given financially so we can hire the best of the best to execute our programs and best practices.
Often, I am asked to explain program costs, as well as staff requirements. It can sound so simple and inexpensive when I say “They just need a home and someone to call them family!” When we hear those words, many of us remember what it takes to care for our children in our homes. However, at Courage House, we are caring for children who are extremely vulnerable, highly traumatized, and diagnosed with various mental health issues. While we do call these children family and deliver services to them in a home environment, we are licensed as a long-term home but operate as a therapeutic mental health facility. Our work is best described as one of rescue and restoration.
Many people assume rescue is a one-time act. This perspective is not accurate for the children we serve at Courage House. The most challenging and complicated components of rescue begin after a child has been deemed physically safe. Then where do you take them; their former home? Most girls, who come to Courage House, whether in the U.S. or Africa, do not have a safe place to go. Building homes is just the beginning of our rescue work.
A child who has been bought and sold as if she has no value, who has been beaten, assaulted, and repeatedly raped, carries within her the invisible chains that bind her to her perpetrator, and these chains need to be broken. Flashbacks, body memories, and nightmares resulting from the trauma, assault her day and night. She needs to be rescued from their effects.
In some cases, this vulnerable child must also be rescued from a family that did not protect her, and from a system of care that has been too bureaucratic, too overworked, and too distracted to hear her cries for help. She needs to be rescued from laws and public policy, and societal misunderstandings that view her as the perpetrator of a crime, rather than its victim. She needs to be rescued from the fear that her perpetrator will come after her to harm her again. In addition, she needs to be rescued from a mindset that views her as someone else’s problem or property—physically, emotionally, intellectually…and ﬁnancially.
In order for these children to face their past and walk confidently into their future, they need compassionate, dependable people, who will walk that long journey with them, in addition to needing a physical place. Courage House is a critical piece in the rescue and restoration process that provides a launching pad to healthy relationships, independence, and a trauma-free future. Rescue and restoration require both a specific place and skilled people. Restoration means returning something to its original intent, condition, or design. That’s what we do.
Imagine a beautiful, hand carved piece of antique furniture. Inspect it in your mind’s eye. Pay attention to the details and superior craftsmanship. It is flawless. While gazing upon it, you can easily imagine the hours of time, as well as the enormous amount of love that was poured into the creative process. This piece is truly one of a kind. It is obvious that the heart and soul of the artist was deeply invested into the work. You can see that it was lovingly created on purpose with a specific purpose in the creator’s mind. It is priceless to the designer—beautiful and worthy of great care.
However, as the years go by, the piece is sold off at auctions to the highest bidder, sadly to those who did not recognize or care for the craftsmanship or uniqueness of the piece. With multiple owners come multiple relocations. Those tasked with the move do not possess the owner’s paternal protectiveness, so it gets bumped, banged, borrowed, and broken. The original intent becomes lost as one owner after another begins to paint over the original design, completely covering its beauty and uniqueness, making it something it was never meant to be. Broken pieces never get repaired, causing its value to plummet. Eventually, it is sold at a garage sale at a cheap price and placed in an attic or old storage room, where it goes unnoticed and unused. Its original beauty and purpose is forgotten. Until one day …
One day an individual, someone trained in seeing beauty beneath a painted façade, who recognizes craftsmanship despite the broken places and lost pieces, stumbles upon this neglected beauty. Though tattered and worn, this individual sees uniqueness of the creation. His eye is trained to see the masterpiece beneath the faded veneer and even recognizes the creator’s design. This individual skilled in such things knows the value of the piece despite the attempted concealment. He realizes that he has discovered a treasure. Gently, he wipes away the blanket of dust disguising its beauty. A tear slips down his face. It is obvious that this piece was created on purpose for a purpose. It was to be admired and valued, not hidden away. He longs to restore it to its original intent, while keenly aware that it will require a great deal of hard, but delicate work. The broken pieces must be repaired and new ones molded. It must be stripped of all that has been placed upon it that was never a part of the original design. It will be messy. He will need a special place to do this type of restorative work. He knows he can’t do it alone. The job will require various professionals skilled in the restoration process. He has weighed the cost. It will be high. However, he is not daunted by what it will cost him in time or money. This piece is priceless. It has a purpose to complete. The investment he chose to make in the restoration process will be worth it after he rescues it from isolation.
We agree. We have counted the cost and it is worth it. These children are priceless, created on purpose for a purpose—worth all of our investments.
Our ability at Courage Worldwide to rescue and restore more children from the evil of sex trafficking directly depends upon our financial ability to hire quality staff. A program that incorporates best practices and has documented outcomes remains in a binder without trained, compassionate, and skilled staff to execute it. A house remains a structure unless there are loving individuals committed to transforming the building into a home, where laughter is heard, dreams are dreamt, and memories are made. Processes and procedures remain words on paper without competent staff translating them into services designed to meet the unique needs of our girls. There will be no home, no successes, and no outcomes without our amazing staff and a home called Courage House.
One of our current struggles is staff exhaustion. Many of them (of us) are doing two, three, and four job descriptions. We all have been exposed to what the professionals call “secondary trauma,” which results in compassion fatigue, and if left unchecked will cause total burnout. Like a championship football team, we must have depth to our roster. We must have qualified replacements as back up to expand and carry the heavy loads. However, our finances have not allowed us to hire all the people we need for growth and expansion.
When I am asked, particularly at year-end, “What is your greatest need in serving this population?” my answer is two-fold — more beds and more staff. To bring more girls home, we must expand geographically, opening more physical homes, while at the same time recruiting, hiring, and training more qualified staff. One does not happen without the other. My pet peeve these days is hearing reports listing available beds in the U.S. or the world for victims of sex trafficking without factoring in qualified staff. Beds are the easy part. However, if you do not have competent, trained, healthy staff, then you cannot attempt to rescue and restore more girls. You cannot do this work.
This is our “ask” this year … help us bring more girls home by donating funds that allow us to hire more staff, buy more land, and build more homes. We are expanding throughout California, into Texas, Mississippi, contemplating locations in the east, as well as more international sites, so that we will have more physical homes across the nation and world for children who have endured this type of exploitation. The need is great and the resources are few both locally and globally. This year, we have matching funds of $25,000, and we ask that you would consider investing in our expansion and plans to bring more children home. Your return on that investment (ROI) is a changed life. If you are interested in donating toward the matching donations campaign, click here. Thank you for your support in the past and for prayerful consideration of this ask.
Founder and CEO, Courage Worldwide