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How I Got Here

I did not grow up with the dream of working with human trafficking survivors.

I didn’t even know what trafficking was for the longest time. The subject was maybe touched on in high school, but it was a fleeting thought, something that didn’t concern me. I assumed it happened in third world countries, a world away over the ocean. I didn’t need to worry about it, and I certainly couldn’t do anything about it from where I was.

That being said, I never really know what I wanted as far as a career. I was a naturally skilled writer, so I moved that direction when I chose journalism as a major. Anytime I debated changing my mind, my considerations vacillated between things like teaching, nursing, and social work. I never switched because of the sheer inability to make up my mind, so journalism stuck.

I always wanted to help. I’m a strong 2 on the Enneagram scale, so even if my career wasn’t a helping career, I always looked for ways to combine school and work with community service. I got a job during college at a local maternity home. This old Victorian house was redone to house homeless pregnant women and new moms who had nowhere else to go. I learned quickly that building trust was challenging but not impossible.

I kept showing up, owning my mistakes, helping where I could, and sure enough over time, the residents became more than the maternity home girls. They became my friends. I held their babies so they could nap. I scouted for apartments with them. I cooked food and ate meals with them. I celebrated with them.

Jessica and I almost 20 years ago not long after we met!

However, it wasn’t long before I realized that while we were friends, I still couldn’t control, nor understand, some of the choices they made even after we helped them get back on their feet. I became self-righteously frustrated, thinking I knew best and assuming I’d make better choices if I were in their shoes.

It took older, wiser coworkers to remind me that while I had been raised with everything I ever needed, many people are not. Many people grow up with complex trauma, thus their worldview and response to life are different. It took me years to learn how to come alongside others who didn’t think the same as me.

When I graduated college and moved, I really missed my job there; I didn’t realize it would be an experience that shaped my approach to the job I have now as a Mentor Coach with Allies.

I met Jessica, Allies’ founder and Executive Director, at my local church. We were placed in the same small group as leaders, but we couldn’t lead without getting to know each other. I distinctly remember having her over to my little apartment for coffee and pancakes for the first time. We chatted endlessly and were fast friends.

This was during a time our small group and church were just beginning to learn about human trafficking. We read the book Not For Sale, attended documentary/discussion nights at church, and had long talks about the injustice of trafficking and how we could help. I was so unsettled by what I read that I had nightmares for a few weeks, and my husband convinced me to take a break from reading it.

Jessica wanted to do a car wash benefitting an organization that helped survivors, so she recruited our small group to help.

It’s hard to tell the story of my involvement with Allies without telling their entire origin story. I’ll keep it short by saying what began as Jessica’s desire to help other organizations ended up being a catalyst for empowering people in our own community to help. It became clear our circles of influence didn’t just want to give money. They wanted to give their time, their energy, and their resources. The question was: to what?

As Jessica forged ahead in this adventure, I hung back, got married, and started a family. I couldn’t be as involved as I wanted, but deep down I really wanted to become a mentor. In the meantime, I helped where I could: blogging, marketing, writing, volunteering, etc. Finally, when my youngest was in preschool, I applied to become a volunteer mentor.

Me and my mentee, M.

The experience was nothing like I anticipated. The highs were so high, the lows were so very low. I was paired with a mentor coach, who supported me in my journey, and I called her crying often after meeting with my mentee because my heart broke for the journey she was on. But I also had heartwarming times; times we wandered farmer’s markets and watched Netflix while eating popcorn and did hill sprints at the park to get her conditioned for basketball.

After two years of mentoring, I was asked to be a Mentor Coach. I now oversee five mentor/mentee matches and support them as they build trust and journey life together.

Allies has several programs aside from mentoring, and one of those is job training. We partner with Job Ready Indy and use their curriculum to help trainees earn badges, such as social skills, self-management, portfolio building, or perseverance. In the past, we’ve partnered with businesses in the community for the internship side of the program, but we’ve identified a need to have workplaces that are trauma-informed.

What does trauma-informed mean? Technically speaking, it means approaching caring for people using practices that promote a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing. It means extra grace and patience. It means being aware of triggers. It means always choosing compassion and second chances. It means respecting another’s journey and healing process. It means providing extra support through mentorship and other services, like childcare and transportation.

If you think about it, most workplaces don’t have the time or resources for any of that. We’ve been dreaming for a couple years now about what it could look like to create one.

Thus, the Blue Butterfly was born.

The Blue Butterfly is an online shop that creates inspiring products to encourage and uplift others, and our business supports local anti-trafficking efforts. Our vision is to create a positive, uplifting business and workplace where survivors of trafficking can safely job train, find encouraging community, build relationships, learn real life job skills, find compassion, and receive experience and referrals needed to further their careers and lives.  Ultimately, our purpose is to fill a gap in the care and treatment of survivors. Many struggle to find understanding workplaces with positive and encouraging coworkers. This workplace will help fill this gap by meeting needs like childcare, transportation, job skills, relational skills, and networking.  The environment will be one of mutual care and respect, and all staff will be trauma-informed. We hope to have a structure of employees where some staff can be partnered with mentees on their shifts and help guide them as mentors.

A stack of bracelets inspired by my mentee.

I’m the last person I’d peg to start a business like this. I’m not confident enough, nor knowledgeable enough. However, my husband, Jessica, and others spoke encouragement to me that my experience makes me qualified for it. I’m not sure what the big picture looks like down the road, but I trust I’ll have what I need when I need it.

I DO know a place like this doesn’t exist in Indianapolis. And it’s greatly needed.

So we’re just going to start. We are currently stamping metal bar and washer bracelets, and we do offer custom work! We have a few ideas for products up the road. But know this: ten percent of our proceeds get donated to Allies monthly, and we are constantly working to communicate our end goal: to provide job training to trafficking survivors.

Do I feel inadequate? Yes. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over eleven years. I can manage a household with my eyes closed. But mapping out the growth of a business? Researching product development? Designing an internship program? Coming up with marketing ideas and goals? Not exactly part of my wheelhouse.

But then I think about my mentee. I think about her smile when we got food to cook from a Farmer’s Market. I think about the pride she felt when she finished her trauma narrative. I think about the day she became a new mom. I think about the dreams she has for herself, the ones she tells me over pizza and cokes. She isn’t sure how she’ll get from here to there.

Neither do I, but I think together, we can figure it out a little bit at a time.

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