By Christina Cavazos
When Vicki Proffit first meets the young women who come to stay at Sarah’s Home, located in Peyton, the executive director knows she has an uphill battle ahead — loving the girls until they learn to love themselves.
Those who Proffit encounters are scared and angry when they first arrive, and she estimates it takes about six months before they even begin to start trusting others.
At Sarah’s Home, Proffit and a team of caregivers and educators work with teenage girls who have been victims of sex trafficking.
“We help them transform from becoming victims of sex trafficking to being successful survivors,” Proffit said.
Proffit, 69, has a passion for helping women and children. That passion led her and her husband to foster children for many years. She also was part of a women’s team that saw a need to help women who were suffering from abuse or addiction — and who also had children.
“There was a great need for a place for them to come and receive help, but also bring their children,” she said.
Proffit served as the founding director for Teen Challenge House of Promise on the Western Slope. She had been there 13 years when she received a phone call about Sarah’s Home, which also was founded by the Rocky Mountain Women’s District Ministries.
“At that point, House of Promise was healthy in every way. We had a great staff, the property was in good shape, the financial situation was good. And at that time, God showed me that he wanted me to come to Sarah’s Home,” Proffit said.
She’s now been with Sarah’s Home for about 5½ years, but she is looking toward the future and expanding the ministry’s outreach by establishing a similar boys home.
Proffit spoke with the Business Journal about Sarah’s Home, sex trafficking in the U.S. and her plans for the future.
Tell us a little about Sarah’s Home.
We are a home to serve teenage girls who have been trafficking victims. We are licensed with the state of Colorado to serve girls who are 12 to 18 years old, and we are licensed to serve up to eight girls. Since we opened, we’ve had 22 girls come through our program. We opened in 2013, but for three years we didn’t have any girls because we were seeking to change our licensing. We are now a specialized group center, and the girls live here. We are contacted by law enforcement, police departments, the FBI, courts, the Department of Human Services, families. We get calls about girls from a variety of sources.
We prefer girls to be here for 17 months. We believe that they don’t begin to trust us for the first six months. We have an accredited school on our property for the girls. When they arrive, our head of school assesses them. Then we provide an individualized education plan for each girl. Our staff creates the whole plan for each girl, because it’s not like every girl is at the same place.
What is your mission and your long-term hope for the girls?
Our mission statement is for us to come alongside these girls so that they can have the life and live the life that they were intended to have. We offer therapy to assist them. We have equine therapy, art therapy, individual therapy. Our goal is to help them become survivors instead of victims. To do that, we work on the whole person — emotionally, physically, mentally, educationally — everything. One of our strengths at Sarah’s Home is that we require their guardian or their parent to come to parent weekend. Every girl eventually, no matter what, wants to have a relationship with her family. So, we require them to come to parent weekend where we walk beside them. We teach them parenting. We teach them what the girl is learning in our school and in our home so that the success rate is much higher for the girl when she leaves Sarah’s Home.
A lot of people think sex trafficking is something that just happens overseas, but it happens right here in the U.S. Is trafficking happening here in Colorado, and how prevalent is it?
Yes, 85 percent of the children being trafficked in America were born and raised here. The figure that I’ve heard is that around 300,000 children in America are at-risk for being trafficked. Now, that figure is about 5 years old, and I guarantee you it gets bigger every year. It’s happening in every community — whether rural or city. Seldom are children kidnapped off the street. What we find is that they’re often lured by someone at school, especially with social media now. And the reason for that? It’s because every one of us has this hole in us that says, ‘Someone tell me I’m worth it; someone tell me I’m pretty.’ … I’m told that the average age that children are thrown into this horrific lifestyle is 11 or 12 years old, but if a family member starts it, they can be as young or younger than 5 years old.
How does Sarah’s Home connect with these trafficking victims?
For the first two weeks, they’re angry and they’re scared. They’re still calling their pimp or their boyfriend. It actually takes a long time for them to realize that is not a good relationship. But, Sarah’s Home is so inviting. It looks like a home. We have mature staff members in the home and in the school. On our property, we have swings, ziplines, a garden, bicycles. It is a home. It’s comfortable. It’s warm. When they walk in, there’s peace.
I get a lot of phone calls, but I don’t accept every child that I get a call about. I have to make sure first that all of our current girls are ready to accept a new girl. Because when a new girl comes in, she’s angry, she’s scared, she’s rough around the edges. It can be unsettling for our home, so I’ve got to make sure the girls we have are ready. Two weeks ago, we actually just got a new girl and the other girls have been so kind to her.
The girls cook together and play games together. We have a dog, who they all love. They each have their own bedroom, and they get to choose the colors in their room. We tell them, ‘This is all about you.’ We do not walk in front of them or behind them; we walk beside them for as long as they let us.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Loving the girls until they love themselves. It’s the hardest but it’s the best. I like watching them grow. I love watching the parents trust them again and watching the girls watch their parents love them again and accept them again. And, seeing the parents accept them for who they are. It’s the most amazing place in the world. You watch girls who have been sold a bill of goods walk into life and into freedom.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, Sarah’s Home is healthy. There’s not a weak link at Sarah’s Home. We have an excellent staff, finances are good, our property is wonderful. So, now I’m talking with other people who want to do the same thing in other communities. There’s a group of ladies in Granby, a group in Estes Park, one in Grand Junction, one in Mississippi. I’m open to talking to anyone who wants to do this.
But God is putting into my lap the pieces to open a boys home that would be run by men. I’d like it to be out in the country and I’d like them to learn a trade. A number of children rescued [from sex trafficking] for the first time last year were boys, and there’s only one home for boys that I know of in the U.S.
Where are you in the process?
Right now, we’re raising money. We’ve got an amazing board. We think we can do it for $300,000. Our budget is $30,000 a month, and I think we can do that for boys and that includes the private education. One important thing about us is the most anybody pays to have their child with us at Sarah’s Home is $700 a month. If they say they can’t afford it, we look at their income tax statement and whether they’re on the free and reduced lunch program. If they qualify, then they don’t have to pay anything. But I tell the parents, your daughter needs to know you’re supporting this in some way so they may pay $30 or $50 a month, but money will not keep them out of Sarah’s Home. n CSBJ