Meet Shelia, Thistle Farms Director of Education and Outreach
Today we're talking with Shelia (above right), a director at Thistle Farms, a graduate of our residential program, and a passionate advocate for victims and survivors of trafficking. Shelia has been busy getting ready for our National Conference June 9-11, and was excited to talk about our growing national network.
“At Thistle Farms, we’ve always been dedicated to helping women survivors recover and heal from trafficking, prostitution, and addiction by providing a safe place to live, a meaningful job, and a lifelong sisterhood of support. Together as a community, we're dedicated to challenging a culture that allows human beings to be bought and sold.
About ten years ago, we began an education program to share the best practices of our model. The Thistle National Network has inspired 33 communities in 25 states to replicate our long-term residential program for survivors. An additional 20 communities are in the development stages, with plans to open residences in the next two years. This is so exciting for us because it means that more of our sisters will receive the care they desperately need.
I graduated from Thistle Farms Residential, also known as 'Magdalene,' in 2007. As a trafficking survivor, I have devoted myself to prevention, intervention, and mentoring victims of human trafficking as they transition from being a victim to a survivor. I help show women that we are so much more than our worst stories. Walking with survivors through the long road of recovery and creating life-long relationships are important to the healing process.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch survivors graduate from high school, get their driver’s license, buy their first car, start college, find their first job... In my eyes, these are the little things. The big moments are when I get to witness forgiveness, compassion, survivors finding their voice and using it to advocate for themselves and others, trusting the community, and healing from the trauma that led us to the streets in the first place.
One way to really encourage this community of support is to bring people together. In a few weeks, we will be hosting a national conference to equip professionals, advocates, survivors, and people hoping to begin restorative programs. Starting and growing an organization can be challenging. Our national conference has been designed to provide learning opportunities and support by looking to an underused resource: each other. We’ve brought together a roster of remarkable speakers who will share their best practices, and the deep wisdom they have learned in everything from strategy development to fundraising.
In this work, we need opportunities that help us to care for ourselves better and care for others better. Isolation and silence are just some of the reasons that trafficking thrives. Coming together, sharing our wisdom, our stories, and rekindling the fire in our bellies—these allow us to go forward and help more survivors in the radical name of Love.
I’m hoping you can join me in being a part of this remarkable community. You can learn more about our conference here. We hope to see you there."