GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – You can keep trying to deny it, but human trafficking is taking place here in West Michigan. The sexual exploitation of young men and young women is happening right in our own backyard.
In West Michigan, there is an estimated 2,400 victims of human trafficking. Also, 1 in 6 runaway youth are likely sex trafficking victims, according to StopThisTraffic.org.
This Connecting with Community Awards Finalist is a partnership that educates about the problem as well as helps victims recover.
The Manasseh Project is an outreach of Wedgwood Christian Services. One of the main efforts is their Trauma Recovery Center, that provides residential treatment services for the victims of sex trafficking.
Wedgwood can house up to 12 girls at any given time. As part of their recovery process, the girls learn work skills such as lawn care, wood working, car detailing, screen printing and sewing.
The Manasseh Project was created to network within the community with other organizations that are working on the issue of trafficking, as well as educating the public,” says Randy Zylstra, CEO of Wedgwood.
One of the organizations that has starting partnering with the Manasseh Project through the network is Crowned Free.
Crowned Free is a boutique fashion company specializing in women and children’s apparel and accessories. After learning about the reality of human trafficking in West Michigan, Crowned Free owners, Heidi VanderWal and Danielle DeSmit, started their company with the purpose of combating human trafficking.
When people hear about the issue of human trafficking they want to give back and they don’t know how” says Heidi.
Crowned Free gives 35% of their proceeds to different organizations locally and nationally that help victims, and one of those is the Manasseh Project. Besides for financial partnerships, Crowned Free also employees victims of trafficking.
Girls in Wedgwood’s Employment Training Program are learning to work by helping make one of Crowned Free’s newest items, a crown throw pillow.
This partnership is truly going full circle. Girls in recovery are creating and selling items that will help raise funds to help other victims.
The Girls really gain confidence, emotionally and socially,” says Ashley Anderson, clinician in the Trauma Recovery Program. “They rebuild all those skills and it leaves them feeling like they have something to offer.”
Creating the pillows for Crowned Free has been amazing,” writes one of the Manasseh Project members. “It makes me feel proud and gives me a sense of accomplishment. With this experience I know I can create anything I want”
Check out more Connecting with Community Awards finalists that are partnering together to solve needs in our community.