Women’s History Month: Interview with Mission at Serenity Ranch
By: Amanda Hart
March is Women’s History month. We here at the Free Press decided to celebrate by highlighting women and organizations in our community that are making their own history. Today’s interview is with Mission at Serenity Ranch. Mission at Serenity Ranch is a rehabilitation program for victims of human trafficking here in Houston. They are committed to providing the women they serve with not only a safe environment, but also a comprehensive program that will facilitate a smooth transition from recovery to a healthy, confident, capable, and self-reliant member of society.
What is Serenity Ranch and how was it created?
Mission at Serenity Ranch is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that was created to bring awareness of, provide prevention education about, and offer a long-term residential restoration program to female survivors of domestic human sex trafficking or forced participation in the commercial sex industry on any level. This agency was created in November 2010 after Cheryl discovered that what is now called human sex trafficking of minors had actually happened to her. At the time, society as a whole had a “blame the victim” mentality such as “making your bed, now lie in it” or “you are the one who put yourself there.” Having been trafficked and used in sexual slavery for the financial gain of others via sex, stripping, pornography, etc. from the age of 13-15, she realized that our nation had just begun to talk about what happens to American citizens. After much research, she also discovered that it was estimated by the State Department that approximately 18,000-19,000 international victims were brought into the U.S. and held as labor or sex trafficking victims - the number provided by the FBI was almost seven to eight times that high. She also discovered that for international victims, there are over 1,100 beds in the U.S. and for domestic adult women there were only several hundred at best and that domestic minors also had very limited residential services available to them.
Why do you think there is a need for a place like Serenity Ranch here in Houston?
It is recognized that Houston is one of the major hubs for human trafficking for labor or sex trafficking. It is the proximity to the Mexico border, the ease of movement via I-10 which covers the southern part of our country from Los Angeles, CA to the Florida Panhandle, and the high number of runaways/throwaway children that come to Houston seeking warmer conditions that keeps Houston in the top three cities for the sale and distribution of modern-day slaves.
What makes Serenity Ranch different than most rescue groups?
Our purpose is to create a gold standard model for rehabilitation programs for victims of human trafficking that can be replicated around the world. It will create not only a foundation for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, but also have an emphasis on attaining academic milestones, creating an ongoing educational and career plan, mastering basic finance and budgeting skills, developing social and relationship skills, and above all, achieving a healthy self-concept. It is our fervent belief that victims of human trafficking must be equipped with all of these capabilities and tools in order to be fully prepared to meet the challenges of integrating into society, developing new relationships, and beginning a career.
Mission at Serenity Ranch’s rehabilitation program will be the first of its kind to use neurological principles of brain health as its foundation. In order for these survivors to be capable of attaining the capabilities of success, they will first need to understand and institute the behaviors and lifestyle habits that will lead to optimal brain health. The program will focus on re-establishing a healthy central nervous system (CNS), the foundation for establishing motivation as well as emotional and physical health, by addressing all variables that impact the functioning of the CNS. Great importance will be placed on sleep behaviors and sleep environment, nutritional assessment and intervention, in addition to exercise, meditation, education on substance use, and toxins in the environment. All of these factors can significantly impact brain function, mood, energy levels, cognitive abilities, and overall well-being.
What do you think the average community member can do to help combat human trafficking?
First, they must be educated to the severity of this problem in every community, hiding in plain site. So, helping to schedule an awareness presentation for their community or social group is imperative. Being educated, not only about what domestic human trafficking is but even more crucial is to discover the methods traffickers use to manipulate our children, to force young men and women to be prostituted against their will. They need to understand this isn’t something horrible that just “happens to others.” Traffickers are not prejudice and no one is immune to being victimized. Secondly, I encourage people to just get involved; there are so many ways to help. Become a volunteer at an anti-human trafficking organization like ours, help organize events, on any scale, to raise the funds needed to offer the specialized services these victims need to recover, and continue to educate others about the problem. Until enough people know about the problem in our country and acknowledge it is happening here, to our own men, women and children, it is very difficult for agencies like ours to raise the funds needed that allows us to offer the long-term, residential, restoration program that these young women have to have to become healthy, happy, responsible, productive, contributing members of our society.
What help or resources is Serenity Ranch currently in need of?
Our agency is so close to opening our safe house, My Daughter’s House, which is the first phase of our long-term program. We have the house and property. We have completed all renovations on the house itself and have about a week’s worth of labor to complete the garage conversion. Once this is done, we have the ability to begin housing young women. In order to accomplish this, we are in need of commitments for paying all or part of our monthly housing expenses and utility bills. We need individuals, groups or corporations to commit to sponsoring one of our young ladies for a minimum of one year, hopefully. Please know it is not the dollar amount of sponsorship that is most important, it is the reliability of the contribution that we need. We desperately need experienced grant writers, therapists, counseling professionals, someone with marketing experience, graphic artists, a webmaster, etc. We need women who are willing to give an hour or so a week for a few weeks to teach a special skill or provide an activity for our residents. We also have many administrative needs including: clerical skills, accounting help, and organization of our office located in The Woodlands. We would love to have volunteers who are experienced or willing to help with the planning and organization of our fundraising and awareness events, including help obtaining sponsors and items needed for each event. Honestly, at this point, there is no skill or talent that anyone could offer that we could not find a place for, but without secure funds we cannot open.
How can people contact you to get more information?
Cheryl Gregg, Executive Director/Founder
PO Box 7541
Spring, TX 77387
by Amanda Hart