August 13, 20190

Residents at Freedom Place helped plan a red carpet themed banquet to celebrate the successful end of their school year. The original idea came from one of the residents who mentioned the wish to a staff member. The promise was made that it could be done and it was going to take a group of dedicated staff and volunteers to try and pull it off. Everyone knew the importance of following through to help build healthy relationships with the residents. They couldn’t let her down or the other residents!

It was time to get to work, the resident had shared her ideas on a storyboard outlining the entire event, down to every detail, including the theme and color scheme. Staff and volunteers started asking for donations. The volunteers from Golden Shears Salon in Spring, Texas heard about the idea. The stylists were so moved by the resident’s initiative and creativity, they decided to collaborate and get in on the planning and even volunteered to provide hairstyling and makeup for attendees on the night of the event.

That was just one of the items on the list that could be checked off. The biggest cost would be finding gowns to fit each of the residents. Golden Shears salon referred staff to a non-profit formal dress shopping program, called Ashley’s Cinderella Closet. Ashley, a local high school student, started it after Hurricane Harvey for students to attend their end of school year events and collected dresses from across the US. The need was still evident after the initial endeavor and Ashley continues to collect the gowns from donors and passes on the kindness by sharing them with those who need them for special events. Freedom Place’s event fit the need she would want to fill. When Ashley was contacted she readily agreed to help find the residents formal dresses. She provided multiple fittings and stylings of gowns for the residents to find their perfect dress, at no cost to Freedom Place. Ashley’s Cinderella Closet didn’t stop with providing the dresses in fact the whole family got involved. They provided beautiful decorations and paid to have a meal catered on the night of the event from a nearby Italian restaurant.

The night of the Oscar-worthy event was memorable! All of the residents looked and felt amazing in their gowns. The residents received special awards prepared by their staff and beautiful gift bags from a volunteer, Camy. Each of the residents was celebrated and had their picture taken, by volunteers, Amy and Becky, to commemorate the special day! And it turned out to be a very special time for the residents, staff, and volunteers. Everyone’s passion to see a resident’s wish granted turned into a very fun and formal evening that made great memories for them all!

June 14, 2016

Over 100 volunteers from Convergint Technologies, along with several family members and vendor partners, recently provided a full day of service at Freedom Place, our recovery program for victims of child sex trafficking. The annual event held on the day of the company’s founding, called Convergint Day, is Convergint Technologies’ way of giving back to the community by providing thousands of volunteer hours to non-profit organizations in cities where they have offices.

Convergint general manager of Houston, Brad Williams said, “We chose Freedom Place because of all the good they do in our community, and helping people turn their lives around.”

The volunteers were enthusiastic, eager to accomplish their given tasks, and downright amazing! Each of the projects below were significant undertakings that took a lot of individual effort from each member of the team assigned to a project. On top of all the hours of donated labor, the value of the equipment and materials Convergint donated was about $75,000! Here is just an overview of what was given and accomplished:

  • Donated and installed a new security system with 14 cameras
  • Donated and installed a new electronic entry system
  • Cleaned up the horse arena
  • Installed a power line across the horse arena for an electric fence
  • Removed old carpeting from the caretakers cottage
  • Demolished and removed an old fire place in the caretakers cottage
  • Primed walls for painting in the caretaker cottage
  • Installed handrails on the second floor of the maintenance barn
  • Installed plumbing in the maintenance barn
  • Organized the contents of the maintenance barn
  • Painted the outside of the maintenance barn
  • Moved four therapy offices and one large room from the front upstairs to the back upstairs
  • Donated a golf cart and constructed a new covered port for it
  • Installed a paver walk path to the administration building
  • Painted the outside of the K-9 barn

We are so grateful to Brad Williams and the entire Convergint Technologies team. It is only through generous supporters like you that we are able to continue providing a path to freedom for victims of child sex trafficking.

Convergint Technologies is a global company that designs and installs systems to provide electronic security, physical security, fire and life safety, and communications. They employ over 2000 professionals in locations throughout North America, Asia Pacific and the UK, and were recently recognized by SDM Magazine as the 4th largest systems integrator in North America.

March 24, 2016

TCAS-Check-PresentationArrow’s Freedom Place, a residential facility in the Houston area for underage female victims of sex trafficking, is pleased to have been the recipient of a donation from the Theta Charity Antiques Show (TCAS).

Each year, TCAS honors selected nonprofits as beneficiaries with funds collected solely through Show underwriting, admission tickets and catalogue advertising sales. In 2015, Freedom Place was honored to be among a handful chosen by this long-standing philanthropic endeavor.

One of only seven facilities of its kind in the U.S., Freedom Place’s mission is to offer a successful path to freedom for girls who have suffered as victims of sexual exploitation.

Pictured are Theta Show Chairman Lois Wright, Arrow Child & Family Ministries National Relations Officer Debi Tengler and Co-Founder of Freedom Place Nikki Richnow at a March check presentation coffee.

To help further this Houston tradition and continue to support worthy nonprofits such as Freedom Place, please make plans to attend this year’s Show at the Bayou City Events Center, November 11-13.

Freedom Place is a program of Arrow Child & Family Ministries. Through foster care and adoption, Arrow impacts over 4,000 children, teens and families each year. Since 1992, Arrow has been fighting the effects of child abuse by helping kids heal from the past and strengthening families to break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

Founded in 1952 as a cause driven effort, the Theta Charity Antiques Show has distributed over seven million dollars to Houston’s charitable organizations that support educational endeavors, medical research, community assistance and cultural arts.

March 23, 2016

shutterstock_336280856Our children are our future and a gift from God. In light of National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we’ve gathered some information on the signs of child abuse, what to do if a child comes to you, how to report child abuse, and ways to prevent child abuse.

Signs of Child Abuse

Note: This list is not exhaustive. Trust your gut instinct if you suspect abuse and report it.

  • Unexplained injuries – visible signs of abuse in the form of unexplained bruises or burns, sometimes in the shape of objects; child may have unconvincing explanation of the injury
  • Changes in behavior – scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, aggressive
  • Returning to earlier childhood behaviors – fear of the dark or strangers, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting
  • Changes in eating – the stress caused by abuse can lead to weight gain or loss
  • Fear of going home – kids may express anxiety/apprehension about leaving school or going places with the abuser
  • Changes in sleeping – frequent nightmares or difficulty falling asleep, thereby seeming tired or fatigued
  • Changes in school performance/attendance – difficulty concentrating in class, or excessive absences, especially if adults are trying to conceal injuries
  • Poor personal care/hygiene – appearing uncared for, consistently dirty or have severe body odor, lack proper clothing for the weather
  • Risky behavior – kids abused may participate in risk-taking behavior such as drug use or carrying a weapon
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors – demonstrates unusual sexual knowledge or explicit sexual language

If a Child Comes to You

Should a child come to you and report he or she is being abused, it’s important to remember the following tips.

  • Keep calm and just listen. Try to remain as neutral as possible as the child speaks to you about the abuse. Do not display disgust or shock, as the child might think it has to do with them and not about what has happened to them.
  • Don’t promise not to tell. Instead, say you’ll promise only to tell people who need to know and that you’ll let the child know beforehand.
  • Reassure the child they did the right thing by telling you.
  • Write down everything while it’s fresh in your mind.
  • Report the abuse. You have the power to help a child who is hurting and in danger. You can report anonymously should you so choose.

“Don’t let fear of getting involved prevent you from reporting concerns. It’s our responsibility as a community to prevent abuse,” says Andrea Requenes, Regional Director at Arrow Child and Family Ministries.

How to Report Child Abuse

To report cases of child abuse, contact your local Department of Family and Protective Services. In the state of Texas, this number is 1-800-252-5400. Nationally, you may contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

Ways to Prevent Child Abuse

Scott Lundy, President and CEO of Arrow Child & Family Ministries (Arrow) and President of the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, declares, “There needs to be a revolution at the taxpayer level to reach out to our elected officials to demand that more funding be allocated to child abuse prevention services. We have to be able to begin to slow the rate at which children are being abused at home.  It takes the right prevention services to make this happen.”

In order to strengthen parents and families and prevent the cycle of child abuse from occurring, it’s important that parents and caregivers feel they have a support system in place and resources readily available to them. Here’s how you can help.

  • Be willing to be a support system for your neighbors and their kids and grandkids
  • Volunteer in the community by becoming a mentor to kids, or donating time or resources to community organizations
  • Help a family under stress. For example: babysitting, running errands, or helping with chores
  • Get involved in a local school by attending their events (plays, sports games, performances), join the parent-teacher organization, or even start a neighborhood watch

Additionally, make sure to check out the Safe Families for Children program. Safe Families provides breathing room and support for parents in crisis who may need help caring for their children until they can get back on their feet. Volunteers in this program aim to reduce the risk factors for child abuse by coming alongside parents before a situation escalates.

New Program Coming Soon

Arrow Child and Family Ministries in partnership with several area agencies in Houston is excited to announce a new program coming soon called ParentingHelp. Preparing to launch in April, the program will offer resources such as in-home training and support services for families at risk for abuse. For many, these resources couldn’t come at a better time. Those looking to take advantage of the program can expect to receive parenting and discipline techniques as just some of the many benefits through ParentingHelp.

Want to know more? Attend an informational meeting to learn ways you can be involved in a child’s life.

Source: https://www.childwelfare.gov/

December 9, 2015

by Meghan Zuraw, North Texas Outreach Manager, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children – Texas Regional Office

It was always the same message, and it was sent to more than 800 girls on social media, most often to those posting about fights with their parents or feeling isolated at school. “You’re pretty,” the message said. “You could make some money.” Many were intrigued, including a 17-year-old Fairfax County, Virginia girl, who responded and arranged a meeting. She soon found herself trapped in a car with members of a violent gang operating in the affluent suburbs. One of the men pulled her out of the car and raped her. When she resisted, he cut her with a knife. He then took her to an apartment building, where she was forced to have sex with more than a dozen men. When she was finally driven home early the next day, she was told if she said anything, they’d come back and kill her.

Sex traffickers lure vulnerable children using physical and psychological manipulation. These relationships often begin online before progressing to a real-life encounter. While any youth can be targeted by a pimp, runaways or children experiencing trouble at home are especially vulnerable. Traffickers know these children have needs that are not being met and use this to their advantage. Often they will create a seemingly loving relationship with their victims to establish trust and then use more violent tactics to maintain control so that victims feel trapped and powerless.

To better protect your child against predatory offenders:

  • Create an environment in which he or she feels comfortable talking with you. Share the dangers of sex trafficking with your children and encourage them to alert you when they feel uncomfortable in any situation.
  • Often trafficking victims have experienced victimization in the past, and many times this has been inflicted by individuals close to the victim. Do you trust the people with whom your child interacts? Knowing whom your children are with at all times is crucial to protecting their safety.
  • When your daughter or son is online, do you know which sites they are visiting and with whom they are communicating? Taking the time to monitor what your children do and who they are interacting with on the Internet is a VERY important step in keeping your child safer.
  • If something does not seem right, ask questions!

For more information, visit www.missingkids.org. If you suspect a case of child sex trafficking, contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or visit www.cybertipline.com. If you are interested in child safety presentations for your organization or school, contact us at [email protected].

August 28, 2015

By Rebecca Bender

Rebecca 2Rescued victims. Have you heard this term? Maybe your heart fills with excitement, passion or joy when you think of being able to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We imagine a child like our own, taken, abducted, hopeless and helpless while trapped in a room with her teddy bear. It becomes unbearable to think of what may happen next, as a captive victim of sex trafficking. The righteous fury rises up inside us and we stand, as the army of God to fight this injustice.

Well, what happens when it doesn’t quite look like this? I am a survivor of trafficking. I was forced into prostitution for nearly six years at the age of 18- an “adult.” In my time as a trafficking advocate, I have helped dozens of girls, consulted safe home staff across the world and trained more than 5,800 community members just like you. Do you want no know how many times I have encountered the above scenario? None. Does that mean trafficking doesn’t happen? Absolutely not… trafficking is very real in our country. But, unfortunately, most people have the very wrong idea of trafficking and end up being disappointed or hurt when running to the “rescue.”

Imagine this scenario instead: your neighbor girl next door is 7. Her parents fight and dad, because of his alcoholism; is verbally abusive, yelling and throwing things against the walls most evenings. She spends her time hiding under bed, hoping his fury isn’t taken out on her. At 9, her parents divorce, and mom gets a new boyfriend. Mom has no time for her because she is enthralled with her new romance. Your neighbor begins fading into the background of importance. When she turns 10, her new step dad begins sneaking in her room at night and touching her inappropriately. She is scared and doesn’t want to hurt her mom. She puts up with it until she is 12. In middle school, she starts drinking at parties, both to escape from her home life and simply as a predisposition to her father’s alcoholism. Her mom notices the change and begins grounding her. Unable to tell her mom the truth out of fear, she runs away in the night to a party. Her step dad “just happens to notice” and calls the police who put out a pick up order on her. Cops are called because the party is too loud and she gets picked up as a runaway and put in juvenile hall. Inside, she is bullied because she is clearly “new” and the girls who are in juvie often can pick up on “fresh meat.”

Your neighbor is lost and lonely and hurting. She doesn’t know her way out, she has never seen another life modeled for her and at 13 now, lacks the cognitive reasoning to understand cause and effect. This cycle of running to avoid step-dad and stay self-medicated at parties continues, where the pickup order and juvie spirals. She is hardened. Callouses have developed around her heart. At 14 she meets a guy a party who is 24. She is flattered that the older, cute boy at the party is paying attention to her. He takes a real interest, making her feel valued, listened to and adored for the first time in her life. He asks when she has to be home and she tells him she isn’t going home. He invites her to travel, to get away for a couple days. She wants nothing more than to run to something better and this appears to be the first and only invitation in her life to escape…

Your neighbor arrives in a new city with her adult boyfriend. She is excited until he gives her a new pair of bra and underwear and tells her to go to the strip club across the street, that they need the money for the hotel. She feels pressured, afraid and doesn’t want the dream of escaping to end. The boyfriend coerces her, reminding her that it’s just dancing and her dad use to force her to do more. At least now she’s in control. It’s an empowering feeling for her to turn it around on men. Her boyfriend picks her up from the club at 2 a.m. for a week. He tells her how proud he is of her, how he knew she was special. She makes enough money to support them, even though he takes it all because he is the adult and “knows what needs to be paid.”

One night, he picks her up and there are men are in the backseat. He tells her how much they need this extra cash to get out of town and rent a home not a hotel. He wants to be a family with her and marry her when she turns 16 in a different state but they need the money to move. Just once he begs…

Her boundaries have already been expanded to a further point than most children and a small shove from her “boyfriend” pushes her over the edge. This continues and no longer is it the strip club, but now it’s Backpage ads or he’ll hit her– a far step from the verbal abuse growing up. She gets picked up by law enforcement and ends up in Freedom Place at 15.

She isn’t running from the hotel thankful to be “rescued.” She wasn’t kidnapped, nor does she have her teddy bear. She’s hardened and hard. She cusses and wants a cigarette. She misses her abusive boyfriend, which we know is a trafficker, but she doesn’t see the fraud and wants to be the family he promised. You want to help her, but she looks at you like you’re one of her school teachers, annoyed and untrusting.

Why does this situation not make us want to run to help her? Because we don’t see the back story the day we arrive to help? We see an angry young girls who flips you off and cusses saying she’s going back as soon as her time here is done. Why invest? Why get close? I’ll tell you why:

We must reach our youth with the same love and compassion and empathy that Christ calls us to. We must push the “rescue victims” out of our thoughts or we’ll be disappointed. She is hurting and needs time to let her hardened heart soften before she’ll let you in. She asks herself, “Why did the volunteer get the hand of cards dealt to her while I got a life of pain?” She is jealous and mad at you for the privilege you were born with. She is afraid of what her life holds when she gets out. Will she be back with her step dad? Will she live in a foster family who doesn’t get it? What really does the future hold with a drop-out education, a minimum wage job and no job skills to really put her in a position to be economically empowered.

It’s not the kidnapped version, but it is the majority of what we deal with here in America. We need people to look past the tough façade, and see a hurt child who has built walls around herself. We need to stop acting like we have it all together and share a bit of our struggles, proving more and more that we haven’t had a silver spoon either. We need to help identify resources in the community for her exit plan: an internship, a home where she can go to college or technical school, incentives for completing programs and a career/life coach to help her make choices for her future that will keep her out of poverty. We need her to get counseling to understand the complex trauma of exploitation and healthy ways to stay connected to an unhealthy family for the rest of her life. This is the reality of the work. It’s complex, it’s individualized for each girl and it’s hard. But, it is also incredibly rewarding. Being diligent and watching the transformation of lives. No, we don’t win every one but we do win many! No greater love is this than to lay down your life for a friend.

“She’s the daughter of a king and even though she doesn’t know it yet, we will love her until she does know.” – Christina Rangel: Trafficking Survivor and Advocate

Rebecca Bender is a nationally known and recognized Survivor Leader in the efforts to eradicate modern day slavery. She has trained people such as directors of FBI and former President Jimmy Carter. She is the author of Roadmap to Redemption, a faith based work book for survivors. Her organization, Rebecca Bender Ministries is the first to offer online mentoring classes and webinars and specializes in rural America. In her free time, you can find her finishing her Master’s Degree at Bethel University and spending time with her husband and their four lively daughters.

May 21, 2015

Victims of sex trafficking, such as our girls at Freedom Place, will have more resources than ever to aid in their recovery and healing thanks to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this week.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will create a designated fund for victims of sex trafficking, impose penalties on individuals who sell advertisements to exploit victims, and give states preference for federal grants if they establish “safe harbor” laws for trafficked children.

Ted Poe, our very own congressman here in Spring, co-authored the legislation.

“In a time of seemingly endless partisan gridlock there is one thing we can all agree on: our children are not for sale,” said Congressman Poe in a statement following passage of the JVTA. “After years of hard work on this issue, Congress has taken a historic and necessary step today to help end modern day slavery in America.  I look forward to President Obama signing JVTA into law so that we can finally help eradicate this scourge.”

It is encouraging to see our political leaders recognizing the importance of this critical issue, and working together to resolve it!

May 13, 2015

giving1Instead of a more traditional Mother’s Day present, our friends at Living Word Church of the Nazarene gave the mothers in their congregation the gift of giving!

In years past the church had given mothers flowers, or other small gifts. This year, in accordance with their mission statement to “see life transformed through the living Word of God,” they made a donation to Freedom Place on behalf of all of the mothers.

“We told them the Sunday before that we would be giving the best Mother’s Day gift ever,” said Rev. Larry Morris. “When we revealed what it was, they were thrilled. We had a great reception of that.”

The gift inspired more donations to Freedom Place from individual members of the congregation. When all was said and done, Freedom Place received $1,885.

Thank you Living Word Church! We are so blessed by your generous gift.

February 5, 2015

On a recent afternoon at Freedom Place, Chance the horse was just not cooperating with one of the residents, who was trying to groom him. She wanted him to lift his leg, but after a couple failed attempts, she was getting visibly frustrated.

“You have to let him know what’s going topic3 happen before it happens,” said Kathy Moore, an equine therapy facilitator at Freedom Place, as she stepped in to help. “It’s just like here, we try to let you girls know what’s going to happen before it happens, so you can make a good decision.”

On the next attempt, the girl started by petting the horse’s back, then slid her hand gently down his leg, coaxing him to raise his hoof so she could scrape off the caked mud. Once she was through, she moved on to the other hoof without a hitch. She and the horse were finally in sync.

It’s these lessons in patience, communication and regulating one’s emotions that Kathy, along with Sherri Clement and the other equine therapy instructors, hope to instill in the girls at Freedom Place, a safe haven for underage victims of sex trafficking in the Houston area.

The girls at Freedom Place arrive with debilitating anxiety stemming from the trauma of being trafficked.  They may have issues with self-confidence, rejection, anger, or any number of other issues.

Equine therapy is meant to bring healing to the girls by teaching them to cope. It uses horse training to teach life lessons in topics such as building healthy relationships and overcoming fear. As the girls reflect on their success and failures in the horse corral, they can apply what they’ve learned to their everyday lives.

Three weeks into the program, the number one thing the group has focused on so far is self-soothing.

“Horses run from frustration, irritation and anger,” Kathy said. “One girl walked in irritated, and the horse ran away from her. She said ‘The horse doesn’t like me,’ and I told her ‘It’s not that he doesn’t like you, it’s that your energy is throwing him.’ I told her start at the top of her head and soften every part of her body, and as she turned back around to the horse, they felt that connectivity instantly.”

pic1Kathy said horses are especially helpful in therapy because they are attuned to human emotions, and are often reflective of their handler’s mental state. For that reason, they’re not only helpful as a learning tool for the girls, but are revealing for therapists, who can get a better read on a resident’s mental health by seeing how their horse is behaving.

After working with the horses, the girls sit down together in a group therapy session to further process their emotions. The girl who’d had trouble with Chance described what was going through her head.

“At first, I was disappointed because he wouldn’t lift his leg,” she said. “He knew I was mad, and he couldn’t cope. I had to cool down and shift my mindset first, and after that he lifted it.”

Progress like this is what Kathy, Sherri and the rest of the Freedom Place team are hoping for. The girls are only in the first stages of the program, but as they progress, they will eventually get to ride the horses.

“First, the girl has to be stable, then we use the horses to teach these life skills like team work and problem solving,” Sheri said. “After that, horsemanship is the reward. Once they’ve earned the trust and respect of the horses, then they can start riding.”

To find out more how you can support the girls at Freedom Place, go to www.arrow.org/freedom-place.

January 8, 2015

Child victims of sex trafficking come from all walks of life and vary in ethnicity and age, but they all have one thing in common—the stories of the abuse they’ve suffered are heartbreaking.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month—a time for our communities to come together and take action to end modern day slavery, and help those who’ve already been victimized.

The average age of a child sold into prostitution is just 14 years old. Girls are sometimes sold by their own family members, or lured into dangerous situations at parties or online. The average pimp makes more than $200,000 per child each year, and usually has between four and six girls.

When police bust a sex trafficking ring, these children have few places to get the support they need. Often they are placed in juvenile detention.

But Arrow provides a significantly better option: Freedom Place.woman in depression

Freedom Place is one of the few residential treatment centers in the country for underage victims of sex trafficking. The 42-bed facility, located just outside of Houston, provides therapy, spiritual support, education from an accredited school on-site, money management and job training. Arrow’s goal is to provide them the tools to lead a healthy and productive life so they are no longer vulnerable to re-victimization and exploitation.

Freedom Place has served dozens of girls since its opening three years ago. The transformation in their lives has been amazing.

One resident recently described how she never thought she would graduate from high school, but the teachers at Freedom Place supported and encouraged her. Now, she has her diploma.

“As I walked on the stage and heard the graduation music and looked at everyone’s eyes tearing up, I started tearing up and became speechless,” she said. “Graduating meant the world to me, and now I’ve accomplished it.”

Another resident expressed her transformation through poetry. Her beautiful poem sums up exactly what Arrow wishes to provide for the girls at Freedom Place.

One of the stanzas reads “I lived most of my life in this scary dream-like state / But no longer is this the case / Because I finally woke up when I came to Freedom Place / So now I can rest for a little while / Because soon the world will get to see / The very best me that I can be / While I’ll get to live safe, live well and live free.”

We celebrate the transformations of the girls who have come to Freedom Place, but let’s not forget the more than 100,000 American children lured into the sex slave trade each year who don’t have the same opportunity. Far more resources to help them are still needed.

You can learn more about Freedom Place, human trafficking, and how you can help at www.arrow.org/freedom-place.