In the face of adversity there is still much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day. While many of us will be rejoicing and feasting today, there will still be one tireless lady that will never stop giving freely of her time, Mrs. Brenda Meyers-Powell, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of The Dreamcatcher Foundation (DF). As Brenda so eloquently spoke on such a hard topic she said, “Don’t be sad, be happy we are doing something about it. Prostitution doesn’t have a time, it’s not a 9 to 5 deal, my cell is on 24/7.” Both Brenda and Stephanie Daniels-Wilson, Founder and Executive Director, DF both work around the clock in providing at-risk youth and survivors of sexual exploitation the means and resources to turn their lives around in an effort to free themselves from the reigns of the sex trade industry.
Last Friday, Traffick Free (TF) partnered with the Dreamcatcher Foundation to host a pre-Thanksgiving potluck dinner at St. Michael’s Church in Old Town. The attendance was great, the food was in abundance and the donations were plentiful. At this dinner, we were graced with the presence of willing survivors speaking about their journey and how DF has impacted their life.
Molested at the age of four, prostituting at the age of fourteen, shot at five times, stabbed thirteen times. These may seem like random statistics, but it is the life and journey of a dynamic leader, Mrs. Meyers-Powell. Mrs. Meyers-Powell has persevered through these obstacles and now recognizes, “I am a miracle of God and I see miracles everyday.” She may grow weary at times, but her inner strength and drive come from the simple “thank you” that she receives when a survivor calls her to let her know, “I’m doing better now.”
Molested at the age of eleven by her father, molested by her cousins, raped by her uncles took Cassandra (Survivor, name changed to protect her identity) through her darkest times, at a time when a young girl is finding her way through adolescence. “I started looking for love in all the wrong places,” said Cassandra. “I wanted love and I wanted to be held and told that everything was going to be okay.” Unfortunately, Cassandra’s early years were filled with prostitution by the age of fourteen while enduring the pain of being repeatedly raped, dragged and beaten and resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. “At the age of 14, I got pregnant with my Dad’s baby, I had an abortion and ran away to my friend Judy’s house and this is when I started prostituting,” exclaimed Cassandra. Cassandra will say that her life is not the average “American Girl” story, but she is grateful to say that she has been at a recovery home ever since she saw Stephanie driving the Dreamcatcher van and decided that she was tired of running the streets. Cassandra said loud and proud, “Clean and serene, no tricks, no trading!” No longer is Cassandra, “kicking it with rocks,” or living life “below low,” but now with the help of DF, Cassandra is living in a recovery home, feeling beautiful, loved and recognizing that she has a “higher power believing in me.”
Molested by foster parents, raped as a child by her mother’s boyfriend, abused by her mother, Layla (Survivor – name changed to protect her identity) was also a victim of circumstance, which led her into the life of despair, selling drugs and prostituting. Layla now looks back and says that she is proudly earning a living legitimately while raising her four-year old daughter. “I am a mother of a four year old girl, going on 20, but I want to make sure that my daughter never does the same.” “I don’t have to get on my knees, nothing strange for change,” says Layla.
Layla recalls a time when she went on a prostitution retreat and met other women that she didn’t think she would be able to form bonds with. “Everyone was happy and they were like family and I was crying when I had to leave them,” said Layla. Layla believes that she is now in a position to pay it forward and help young girls get the help they need now. Layla is thankful for what DF has been able to provide and thankful for Brenda and Stephanie because without them, “I would probably be back in jail now.”
As the evening went on, voices buzzed the room with chatter and amusement. In the background our ears were enchanted by the sounds of giggles and roaring laughter of young girls being young girls, acting silly and having the time of their lives with just a camera and props. The attendance of these at risk youth was really important to the Foundation and speakers because this was a platform created to reach out to them and hopefully make a difference in the life of many, if not one. While others continued discussions on how affected they were by the testimonies these ladies shared, this platform also helped open up discussion on how they can get involved in eradicating human trafficking. Moments like this are all we can be thankful for because as hard and uncomfortable it may be to hear of these stories, the outcomes far outweigh turning a blind eye to what exists today.
The courage these ladies displayed in sharing their stories is nothing more than an opportunity to affect the lives of young ladies, adolescent girls that may be at risk of falling into the traps they once endured. The Dreamcatcher Foundation is an organization that reaches out to young girls through education, empowerment and prevention of sexual exploitation. With the donations and generosity from all walks of life, The Dreamcatcher Foundation gets one step closer to their goal of providing temporary housing for victims of sexual exploitation. On this day, we thank all these ladies for their strength in standing before us and sharing their story.
by: Arlene Cruz, TF Volunteer