Thrivent member and financial representative Pam Hansen of Tampa, Florida, knew little about human trafficking. But when she learned about an organization called Loving You Where You Are At, she knew she had to get involved.
"Let's face it," says Hansen, "It's a topic that we don't discuss at the dinner table. It's not like talking about volunteering at a food pantry. In a way, it's almost a taboo conversation."
Hansen connected with Christa Hernandez, the executive director of Loving You Where You Are At (LYWYAA) in Tampa, Florida. The organization provides support for victims of sex trafficking and for people in, or affected by, the commercial sex industry.
A story of hope
Hansen learned that Hernandez started dancing at a local club when she was 18 years old. While she was flooded with embarrassment and disgust, she also felt a sense of empowerment. "I was looking for acceptance – in all the wrong ways," Hernandez says.
After 19 years in the industry, Hernandez confided in a pastor at a church she had been attending for nearly three years. She describes that day as one of revelation. Not only did the Lord help her break free from the life she was leading, she felt called to reach other women. That was in 2010. Two years later, Loving You Where You Are At was formed.
"Human trafficking is probably the No. 1 issue in our area right now."
Since then, Hernandez and trained volunteers have been going into local clubs to deliver gift bags to the women working there. The bags include makeup, body spray and other personal items along with a message that they are loved and valued. Each month they distribute more than 200 bags.
"Human trafficking is probably the No. 1 issue in our area right now," says Hansen. When she connected with Christa to discuss a Thrivent Community event, they came up with the idea of a luncheon designed to draw people together to better understand the issues of trafficking and the sex trade.
More than 50 Thrivent members and their guests attended the event. Christa shared stories about her life. Participants learned about the ministry of LYWYAA and helped pack 220 gift bags.
In addition to organizing the Thrivent Community event, Hansen supports LYWYAA as a member of the baking team. Once a month, the team makes baked goods for Hernandez to take to the clubs. "It's how she gets in the door," says Hansen.
When asked why she volunteers for this organization, Hansen refers to Luke 12:48: To whom much is given, much is expected. Both she and her husband, Jerry, recently recognized as a Community Hero, live out this passage with joyful hearts. They do so believing small acts of service such as baking cookies help bring a message of hope and love to some of the most vulnerable people in their community.
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