One rainy Saturday afternoon, the grey sky split open for sun to shine through on a small church in Southeast Portland. It was not your typical sunshine though; it was seeing 60 young women light up with the realization of their value at Dress for FREEdom. Most of the girls come from foster homes. Some have been sexually abused. Many have grown up around drugs and substance abuse. All are at-risk of becoming victims of human trafficking.
But Dress for FREEdom was their day, a day in which they could shed the weight of the world from their shoulders and simply focus on being young and free.
Sure, they got to pick out a free prom dress, have their hair, makeup, and nails professionally done, learn the art of calligraphy, and get their dresses altered to their exact measurements, but they also learned that they are deeply loved, and can be victors rather than victims, despite the rather unique obstacles they face.
Many of the girls could not stop smiling at the unusual experience of being the center of attention. Each volunteer made sure that every girl felt special, beautiful, and valued, not because of a new dress or the way their hair was styled, but because they are made in the image of a Creator God who has called them to a life beyond the ordinary, a life that need not be negatively defined by the fact that they are in foster care.
A One Day Event With Lasting Impact // A day at Dress for Freedom is intended to become a lifestyle at the Adorned In Grace Design Studio. On a weekly basis, the Design Studio is bursting with young women and mentors who are building healthy relationships. Portland law enforcement has recently stated that out of every ten girls they pick up off the streets, eight to nine of them have been in and out of the foster care system. It is of utmost importance to create a safe place for young women to turn to when they don't feel safe in their own homes. The Design Studio is that safe place. Mentors speak words of life into these young girls and continually remind them of their value in Christ.
It is an upstream approach to preventing human trafficking, and one that Adorned In Grace strongly believes in. Over the years, six Design Studio girls have been baptized, and this year three of them will go to college as first-generation students.
Carol, both a Design Studio and Dress for FREEdom volunteer, has been a mentor for four years and is beginning to see her girls graduate high school. She loves the Dress for FREEdom event because it gives her the opportunity to affirm her girls even if they feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Sometimes on this journey a life is so deeply impacted, a girl will return to the event she participated in as a volunteer. Arlena was one of these girls, and she shared that “I admired the mentors in the previous years, so I wanted to volunteer to help.”
Along with the glamour, Rebecca Bender of the Rebecca Bender Initiative shared her story of being coerced into sex trafficking. As a young woman, she felt undervalued and unfortunately fell into the arms of a young man with devious intentions who sexually exploited her for several years. Her story stresses the importance of helping young women believe in their own value at a young age, so that they are not vulnerable to manipulative people. Rebecca also reminded the girls that God calls each one of them. This was a message and story not just for the young girls, but for their mentors as well. Rebecca shared, “You cannot expect [God] to undo 6 years [of hurt, pain, sin, etc.] in 1 day.” If we start now, hopefully we can end the trafficking of young women.
For many young women in the Design Studio, mentors are the only constantly positive adult figure in their lives. If we start mentoring now and continue to establish life-changing relationships, hopefully we can completely end the trafficking of young women. And sometimes the spark that lights the fire of those lasting relationships is a big party, a pretty dress, and a profound message of hope.
P.S. You can watch our Dress for FREEdom 2017 video here!