When people hear the words “human trafficking” they tend to think it only occurs in blighted areas. They can’t imagine it might be happening right here in their own neighborhoods.
“It’s documented that trafficking is the third largest growing, and soon to be second largest, criminal activity in the world,” says Angela Boles, the founder and executive director of Project 2 Restore. “But, because it’s so hidden, it's difficult for most people to comprehend that it’s so prevalent.”
Angela had no idea how huge the problem was either until an expert on the subject came to speak with her women's ministry group at Topeka Bible Church. “That is when it was planted in my mind, and I just couldn't believe it. As I started learning more, my heart was breaking for the women.”
She then met a local woman who was involved in crisis intervention for women and learned what goes on behind the scenes with her. Angela discovered firsthand the exploitation, the abuse, and the vulnerabilities of these women, and this knowledge haunted her, keeping her awake most nights. But, it also inspired her to do something to make a difference.
“I found there weren’t any good options for women who wanted to exit the life,” she says. “There are often short-term options, but their lives are so broken and the trauma so complex that it takes a long time to heal. Through the Institute of Sheltered Care, I learned that for every 14 survivors who are in need of a place to go, there's only one bed.”
Angela started researching long-term restoration as an option for these women. “I couldn't stop thinking about it, but I had no idea how to get started. Then a pastor showed me a letter about a scholarship program for a three-year intense mentoring program to help open more shelters across the nation, and I knew that I could now say yes to what God was calling me to do. I would be guided step by step through the process.”
Project 2 Restore was founded in October of 2020. “We applied for our 501(c)(3) designation and then to the Institute of Sheltered care, and were accepted that following March,” she says. “By January of 2022, our board and leadership team finished all of our training and we were ready to open our doors.”
A residential program, survivors live in a home with up to four women at a time. The nonprofit also partners with other organizations to help survivors. “Before we even opened, we were mentoring local women to help find them a place to go and partnering with other organizations that could help.”
Since it’s a long-term restoration program, women can be there for 18 to 24 months. “We work from The Institute of Sheltered Care Model that has nine different domains that we work through with the women,” says Angela. “The first goal is stabilization, so we’re helping them with coping strategies, learning how to regulate their emotions, and safety planning. It's really about them feeling safe and secure so they can move forward in their lives.”
Once that’s accomplished, they then move to a growth phase where goals are established. “We have classes on boundaries, personal achievement, peer dynamics, personal hygiene and everything else that will help them integrate into society.”
Life skills are huge, she says. “Many of these women, especially if they were forced into this traumatic lifestyle at a young age, might not have ever cooked before. They may not understand how to grocery shop, garden, or what credit is.
“We're constantly watching to see where they're making progress and where we may need to adjust, but they're all moving at their own pace. Some will go through it much quicker than others, but the final goal is a bright future and independence.”
One thing the women have to learn, though, is how not to be exploited ever again. “A lot of times they have a victim mentality and they have to move to a survivor mentality,” says Angela.
Faith is a huge part of this healing journey, she explains. “Without faith, I believe true healing will never be complete. God created us in his image and He’s the ultimate healer. Faith is from where we serve, and while we hope that the women will embrace that, it's not something that's required in our program.”
One thing these women understand is that they cannot get healthy in the same environment where they’ve been exploited. “Safety and their perceived safety is key because they can't do anything until they've moved beyond that. So we help network local women to other restoration homes outside of Topeka, and then bring women in from other places.” For the safety of the women, and for their staff and volunteers, the location of the home is kept confidential.
“We are committed to combating sex trafficking in our community and at a statewide level through awareness,” says Angela. “We go to churches, businesses and other organizations and give presentations on the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. We also teach parents and other adults how to recognize the vulnerabilities that exist in our children, so we can help them defend themselves right from the beginning. Through awareness, we believe that hearts will be changed and hearts will be moved. And that is from where our community support will come.” She says when you can change the life of one person, you can change generations and what they're going to be able to give to the world.
Project 2 Restore counts on the financial support of the community as well as those who are willing to volunteer their services. “We hope that in giving, donors realize how meaningful their dollars are and how it directly impacts the lives of the women we serve. We also have some great partnerships that have provided everything from medical to dental care and therapy, which are crucial for us.”