John 10:10 Guides The Hope Project’s Battle Against Sex Trafficking

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

hope1THP’s Julia Koch: “People won’t support a mission or project if they don’t believe the problem exists.” They are lonely, afraid and abused, a modern day version of slavery that operates under a veil of darkness. But there's hope.

The Muskegon-based outreach and education ministry, The Hope Project (THP), 185 W. Laketon Ave., makes possible hope and healing for the women and girls ravaged from sex trafficking, while spreading awareness and prevention within the West Michigan community.

John 10:10 is its guiding principle: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

A multi-prong mission

Founded in 2006 by Jeff and Sue Martineau, THP's multi-prong mission includes providing mentoring, individual counseling and group therapy for female survivors of sex trafficking, as well as training for frontline workers such as child welfare workers, foster parents, educators, school counselors, medical staff, dental professionals, juvenile justice workers and law enforcement officials.

The ministry is comprised of three paid staff members: Julia Koch, director of advocacy and development; Sara Karnes Johnson, director of programming; and Jenn Smith, an administrative assistant. Founders Jeff and Sue Martineau volunteer full-time as the ministry's executive director and bookkeeper and also Hope Chest Thrift Store manager, respectively. Malynda Hughes, a Michigan survivor of sex trafficking, serves on THP's advisory board and is a survivor advocate.

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The majority of the women and girls we help are in Muskegon because that's where we have the most awareness," said Julia Koch. "We also have survivors from Oceana and Newaygo counties and from Kalamazoo. If we get calls from survivors from other areas, we typically refer them to organizations that are nearer to them because our resources are limited."

Specifically, in 2013 THP has worked with three survivors of sex trafficking. That number ballooned to 20 in 2014, and then 10 in 2015, and at least 15 victims last year.

Awareness, prevention critical

THP comprises its mission as: awareness = prevention; survivor services; and community response and training.

hopeproject2THP director of programming Sara Johnson (far left) training THP Ambassadors in November. The awareness = prevention aspect involves spreading knowledge of sex trafficking's moral dilemma through panels and forums at high schools, churches and universities. Volunteers known as Hope Project Ambassadors help spread awareness.

"We know how critical awareness and prevention is and so the focus of the Ambassadors is in our schools' classrooms," said Koch. "People won't support a mission or project if they don't believe the problem exists, which is why we immediately moved to awareness."

Survivor services include mentoring female survivors of sex trafficking and sponsoring individual counseling, equine therapy and group therapy.

Community training entails training law enforcement officials, juvenile justice workers, child welfare workers, educators, school counselors, foster parents, and medical staff, as well as chairing the Lakeshore Human Trafficking Task Force and serving as a resource to West Michigan agencies and local residents for statistics, training, and referrals.

Hope Village work in progress

Then there's The Hope Chest Thrift Store that helps fund THP, which provides a way for community members to get involved in anti-trafficking efforts.

hope project3One of the bedrooms at the Hope Village home. Still a work-in-progress is the Hope Village, a four-bedroom home located in an undisclosed location in Muskegon County that would house six girls ages 11 through 17 by serving as a pathway for healing and restoration. Services will include counseling, education, mentoring, recreational therapy, case management, security, and other aspects that will be beneficial to the girls' healing.

Long-range plans includes two more homes for girls as well as a group home setting and transitional living for those who are not ready to move into the community.

THP doesn't operate as an island. It is a member of the Center for Missing & Abducted Children's Organizations, and Muskegon Police Officer Jodi Dibble who serves on THP's board of director, also is chair of the Lakeshore Human Trafficking Task Force, a coalition of local law enforcement, social service agencies, community organizations, and community members that provide a comprehensive community-based approach to human trafficking.

THP also is part of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, a coalition of over 90 local, national and global organizations and individuals representing community organizations, victim service providers, and law enforcement.

CONNECT
http://www.hopeprojectusa.org/

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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