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A Conversation with Himes on goals of Sunrise Safe Home

What is Southern Christian Services' mission?

Our Mission is: In response to the love of Christ, Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth serves and equips vulnerable children and youth, assisting them in the process of becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of society.

What led to starting a home for survivors of human trafficking?

Serving survivors of human trafficking is not new work for us. We've been working in the foster care system a long time and any organization that works with foster care children also works with human trafficking survivors. They are often on in the same. So, the work isn't unique to us, but creating a home solely and exclusively for survivors is. This began probably four years ago when Lindsey Simmons with the Mississippians Against Human Trafficking came and asked if we would be interested in this work.

What they were finding with Mississippians Against Human Trafficking is that law enforcement would go and do operations and would rescue these children. Then, there wouldn't be many places for them to go, and there certainly wasn't a place that was exclusively meant to serve this population. This whole idea came out of the need law enforcement had for the victims they were rescuing.

I originally told her I didn't think we could do this right now. We weren't sure about the funding, or how and where to even put a home. We needed a location, and we needed the funding. None of this was available. I just had more problems than solutions, but Lindsey reassured me and said to just tell her what the problems are, and we would work to solve them. So I did and, through lots of conversations with Lindsey and the Mississippians Against Human Trafficking, slowly but surely, worked to solve all the problems.

Once the problems were resolved, then I really couldn't continue to say no. It was a need. It was certainly something Southern Christian is very positioned to do with both our experience and our expertise.

Our experience was we had operated therapeutic group homes around the state since 1988. We had done that alongside the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services, and we're licensed by them and certified by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. It was a natural fit there. We had run operations like this before. We have a lot of experience. We have a lot of very well-trained and seasoned trauma therapists on staff who specialize in sexual assault and early childhood trauma.

Again, the experience of running residential programs along with the clinical and therapeutic staff that we have made it a good fit. So, Sunnybrook Children's Home came on board and said they could help us find a location. The legislators, of course, helped with the funding. All our problems were solved, and it's been a long process.

What type of services are provided in the Sunrise Safe Home?

They're going to receive room and board and all their meals. They're have a safe place, a very nice place to live and security. They have all of their basic needs met. In addition to that, we've added the clinical and therapeutic component. So, all of our staff will be very well-trained in this and responding to the human trafficking specific needs and those related to early childhood trauma in general.

We offer evidence-based trauma therapy, which is individual therapy. We offer safety planning, so that as they move forward in life, they will continue to promote their own safety. We do individualized treatment planning. We'll do experiential group therapy, which might be anything from pet therapy to art therapy to trauma yoga to equine therapy. We have psychiatric services.

We have specialized education services, because these girls cannot go to public school yet and its just not safe enough for them to do so. We'll have transitional living services and community reintegration because they can't live with us forever. We do need them to get healthy enough to reintegrate back into their communities safely. We'll have personal advocacy and case management, and we do personal advocacy and case management with all current victims that we serve throughout the agency.

Why is this such an important gap to fill?

Well, first of all, it was a gap in service, and second, these victims have specialized needs and they really need to be together in a home with peers that understand what it's like to be a survivor of human trafficking. It's very different from being a survivor of other crimes. There's an entire culture within human trafficking that you don't find in a victim of other crimes. There's all kinds of grooming and recruiting, and there's different levels. Human Trafficking survivors are very similar to being a torture survivor. There's more to unravel. Its very complex, and those are experiences that when you're in a group therapy situation and you're talking about it and the other people in the group don't have similar experiences, can be very isolating. So, having them all together with specialized staff is important for those reasons, and they realize they aren't alone. The crime of human trafficking is complex, and the needs of human trafficking survivors are unique. Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation often involve multiple, repeated victimizations. Victims often experience prolonged mental abuse at the hands of the trafficker. They may develop strong trauma bonds and suffer from Stockholm syndrome. The level of complex trauma experienced by these victims is very similar to that experienced by torture survivors. As a result, victims may suffer from many negative physical and mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, dissociation, substance abuse and PTSD.

As people of faith, Southern Christian seeks to intentionally address the social service and mental health issues that impact our community. We specialize in treating complex trauma. Helping survivors heal is not new work for us. We've been in this space for many years and currently serve trafficking survivors in all our community based and outpatient programs. The Sunrise Home gives us an opportunity to use our experience and our expertise to target and heal Mississippi's adolescent survivors of human trafficking.

What can be done to help solve this problem?

Trafficking prey on vulnerabilities-food insecurity, housing insecurity, those with unmet emotional or material needs, and those with lack of supervision, poor family attachments, etc. It's important that we look around our community, identify vulnerable populations, and then support them. Creating stronger families, stronger schools, stronger communities will help prevent human trafficking. Educate yourself and your children, be an informed voter, learn the warning signs of trafficking and sexual exploitation and report any concerns to authorities.

How does this home now fit into your overall mission?

We certainly want to serve and equip vulnerable children and youth so that they can be self-sufficient contributing members of society. Frankly, there's no more vulnerable population than those survivors of human trafficking. They're very vulnerable, and they do have complex trauma. That trauma can be triggered throughout life, which will really interrupt their ability to be self-sufficient and contributing members of society.

Do you have any goals to grow this mission with the home as it moves forward?

Specifically for Southern Christian, I don't have any goals to grow the home. I do expect this will be the one and only home for this population that we open. However, I do want to create a blueprint so that other wonderful organizations around the state can open homes as well. I don't expect Southern Christian to open more Sunrise Homes throughout Mississippi, but I would love for other nonprofit organizations to come alongside us and do this work as well.

Who can be a part of this solution and how?

Everyone can be a part of the solution. All members of Christ’s body have an important role to play – no one member is more important than another. It takes us all. God’s given us all unique gifts. Southern Christian’s gift is operating therapeutic programs. Our staff is gifted with providing therapeutic care with a trauma-informed response. Your gift is probably very different. Not everyone’s role is to be in direct contact with survivors. Consider what talents and gifts God’s given you, and then call us. We have a growing list of professionals that want to offer their services – dentist, financial advisors, teachers, coaches, bankers, mechanics, fundraisers, event planners, and so on. To be added to the list, call us or visit our website, We’d be happy to talk to you about getting involved with Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth.

We're going to set up a menu, so that churches and civic organizations can provide meals for our kids and our staff. They'll have a date and time, and we will tell them if there are any dietary restrictions. We can meet them in a safe location, pick up the meal and then bring it back to the home. We really are trying to utilize volunteers as much as we can in a safe way.

The home is in an undisclosed location, and we have to keep it that way for the safety of the girls and so the girls don't have strangers coming in and out of their house all the time. For volunteers that want to have a direct connection with any child that's either in foster care or in our Southern Christian system at all, there's a lot of background checks and applications and references. It's difficult. It's a long process to be a direct volunteer with our children because of the confidential nature of why they're in our care, but there are many ways to still be involved and some ways I'm sure we haven't thought of yet. So, that's why we have that growing list of professionals that may want to offer their professional services. We've all been given different gifts by God, and it takes all of us to serve this population. So, if anyone wants to reach out, get on that list, and tell us what their gift is, we'll stick them on the list and when we need to, we will call. I'm grateful for our dedicated board of directors, led by our chairman, Scott Rives. Our board of directors has led our agency by faith believing Christians are not called to stay comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about acknowledging and fighting human trafficking-it's evil, it's heart breaking and destroys lives. Once your eyes have been opened to this heinous crime, they cannot be closed again. But God calls us into this work- To provide hope, to provide a safe place of restoration, and to ultimately demonstrate the unconditional love of Christ to His children. Our prayer is that our youth understand, many for the first time - that they are loved, have value, and are not alone.

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