INDIANAPOLIS — A center to help women escaping human trafficking has opened at the Hancock-Marion county line.
Organizers of Hope Center Indy, the former Marion County Home at 11850 Brookville Road, say they’ve opened their doors and are ready to accept their first residents.
It’s a feat that’s taken many hands: more than 600 volunteers contributed nearly 10,000 hours of service to help the 140,000-square-foot center prepare to house those in need, executive director Hubert Nolen said.
Human-trafficking has been referred to as modern-day slavery. Indiana ranks 22nd among the 50 states in the number of human trafficking cases reported in 2016, with 243 calls for help, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The 2016 Indiana State Report on Human Trafficking cites an “exponential” increase in tips reporting suspected trafficking — quadrupling in two years, from 130 reports in 2014 to 520 in 2016.
Nolen, a former Hancock County pastor, wants to provide those victims a landing pad, a place for women to live and feel safe while they undergo therapy and work with professionals to get back on their feet.
Nolen has said it will cost an average of $1,500 a month per resident to provide the shelter, mental health services, educational courses and other needs of each woman. The center operates on donations and financial support from area churches, individuals and businesses.
According to the center’s Facebook page, more than 25 churches have pledged their financial support, and the center’s leaders want to increase that to 100. Nolen said churches are offering one-time gifts and/or committing to monthly contributions ranging from $100 to $2,000 a month. He estimates they bring in $7,500 together monthly, support he finds crucial as the center pays for startup costs and develops on-site efforts at sustainability, such as a salon.
Brandywine Community Church in Greenfield collected a special offering in April of more than $25,000.
Collaborate317, a business development network offering office space rental in Mt. Comfort, has designated the center as one of the causes it supports and is planning a fundraiser later this month.
Other supporters have donated equipment and labor, from an eight-station beauty salon to flooring for a boutique in the center’s lobby. Nolen said boutique organizers have a goal of paying the center’s rent, and they’re drawing closer to that goal.
“We are creating sustainability,” Nolen said. “People who give want to know you’re going to be here next year.”
The Redefined Hope Boutique, and a coffee shop close by, are both meant to generate revenue to support the center. The center’s website also has a shopping page offering T-shirts, water bottles or wristbands for sale. Or, for $50, a donor can help sponsor a woman by paying for a welcome bag of personal care items.
As he spoke to supporters during the June 18 services at Brookville Road Community Church in New Palestine, Nolen — the church’s former leader — mentioned the center is up to eight full-time employees.
It’s been 17 months since Nolen stepped down as senior pastor of the New Palestine church, which he founded more than 30 years ago, to launch the center. He spoke of many details coming together in those months: a company moving its offices not only donated executive desks and chairs to the center but also delivered them. A man volunteered to mow the 25-acre campus. An area church listened to his vision for the center and gave him a check for $12,000.
One of the bigger pieces to come into place at Hope Center Indy was the hiring of a program director, Suzanne Bautista. In a press release, the center’s leaders said Bautista brings 23 years of experience as a therapist and clinical administrator to her new post. She has a master’s degree in Christian counseling and has worked in re-entry for people coming out of incarceration or drug rehabilitation. Most recently, she has worked at the Marion County Jail.
The release also named Brianne Ford, the center’s education director, who will help each resident form an education plan, whether that means working to finish high school or starting courses for college or trade school.
Bautista, Ford and others greeted tour groups earlier this summer during an open house, which offered an opportunity for donors and volunteers to tour the facility and see the updates. Hundreds stopped by in the three-hour time slot for tours.
At several stops on the tour, guides pointed out areas that hold potential to not only serve the women but also offer them opportunities to gain work experiences that could help them find careers in life beyond the center: a commercial kitchen where they can learn about stock and inventory, a salon where they can learn about hairstyling, a greenhouse where they can learn about growing food.
The center’s release said the June open house was a last opportunity for the general public to see much of the center before any residents moved in. Since opening, it is closed to the general public except for the lobby area; the lobby offers access to the boutique, the coffee shop and an above-ground glass hallway leading to what is hoped to become a 24-hour prayer center.
During the open house, the Rev. Manubhai Mecwan showed visitors the prayer center area still undergoing renovations. A 24-hour prayer vigil took place at the center June 23 to 24.
Volunteers worked at the facility July 15 during Park Chapel Christian Church’s Serve Day. Nolen said in his remarks at Brookville Road that 21 churches have members who’ve volunteered at some point at the center.
Nolan led several hundred potential donors through the building last summer, as the former tenant, the Verity college education program, prepared to move and the opportunity came for Hope Center Indy to lease the site.
Nolen said he also gave tours on many Saturday mornings during volunteers’ work sessions. Some yield on-the-spot offers of help, such as the boutique flooring.
Also touring the center, according to the news release, have been Homeland Security personnel, prosecuting attorneys from Marion County and officers from Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, which according to the center’s release will operate a substation at the center.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. also recently visited.
“The Hope Center Indy has the potential of saving countless women from the horrors of human trafficking and helping them recover from past mental trauma and physical injuries,” he said in a statement to the Daily Reporter. “During my visit, I was impressed not only by the expansive facility but also by the smart strategies incorporated into offering services such as addiction treatment and job training.
“In my view, the Hope Center Indy can become a model to be emulated nationwide, giving women not only a place of refuge but also a fresh start at a new life.”