A safe home for minor survivors of sex trafficking is moving closer to reality, two years after Tri-Cities residents pressured Franklin County to deny their permits at another site.
Mirror Ministries has been working to create the first restoration home of its kind in the state.
The Richland based nonprofit will own and operate "Esther's Home," providing a safe place for minor girls to live and heal after surviving being sexually exploited.
Executive Director Tricia MacFarlan said after pushback in 2020 from neighbors at a different proposed site, they tried a different approach.
The first phase of the project will be renovating a home on a new 20-acre site in rural Franklin County. MacFarlan did not want to share details on the location, citing the safety of the children. She did say it is located in an area that has consistently seen agricultural use, not a residential neighborhood.
She said there was a little pushback this time, but most of it stemmed from a need to give neighbors more information.
"Most of the neighbors are pretty welcoming and we appreciate that," MacFarlan said. "It was important to realize that there are legitimate questions, not everyone understands and sees things the way you do. So we put out invites to neighbors to come and talk."
MacFarlan said some questions they were able to clear up concerns about were about the security measures they would have in place.
"When you say 'safety' a community member might think 'barb wire fences,' and we actually mean a place to live and heal," she said. "We realize there was just a lot of miscommunication, because we're picturing different things when using the same words."
This time around, the process was much easier. During its most recent meeting, the Franklin County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the conditional use permit for the new location. The planning commission also had approved the previous site that was rejected by two Franklin County commissioners.
The conditional use permit for the future restoration home allows for up to three residence structures that will house up to six girls per location. MacFarlan said it was important that these residences feel like family homes. The homes will have 2 to 4 staff members on hand at all times.
"We couldn't be more excited to receive the news that we can move forward with the purchase of a property in the regional Tri-Cities that will provide a serene space for holistic therapeutic support for minor survivors of sex trafficking," said MacFarlan. "Esther's Home will mark the first restoration home for minor survivors of sex trafficking in Washington state."
MacFarlan said they plan to lease some of the land back to farmers who were already using it. Additionally, the land has enough room to create space for relaxation, recuperation and activities. The girls will benefit from on-site counseling, support groups, art and other therapeutic services.
They also hope to offer equine therapy on site where the survivors will get to work with and bond with horses.
"There's currently a house, some outbuildings and a horse pasture and barn," MacFarlan said. "The girls will be able to go out, snuggle up with and talk to their horse if they need to work through some difficult emotions."
Equine-Assisted Therapy is used in a variety of settings, ranging from physical therapy helping children with profound disabilities to emotional health and anxiety support. MacFarlan said they hope to partner with a program that specializes in supporting mental health.
"Many of these girls are struggling with trauma larger than you could ever imagine," she said. "This home will provide them a stable and loving environment to truly heal and find hope after that trauma."
She said one reason why their organization loves the Tri-Cities is the diversity of experiences and talents available to help their mission.
MacFarlan said that now that they have tentative approval to move forward, they can focus on the initial renovation and then fundraising to build the other residences.
About Mirror Ministries
Mirror Ministries is a nonprofit based in the Tri-Cities that provides holistic support services to survivors of sex trafficking, educational resources and outreach to raise awareness about the crime locally in Benton and Franklin counties.
They have served more than 430 sex trafficking survivors since its beginnings in 2014, providing an average of 50 survivors with case management and therapy services each month.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 100,000 to 293,000 children are in danger of being sexually trafficked across the nation.
MacFarlan said sex trafficking is a crime that is often not actively seen or observed, unless you know what to look for.
"Sex trafficking is a crime that occurs locally in our community every day, but it is not necessarily obvious or noticed by most people," she said. "It is a heartbreaking reality that occurs in most communities. We are fortunate to have a community that has actively supported the fight against this horrific crime and that we are able to help so many individuals find freedom, hope and healing."
For more information about Mirror Ministries, visit mirror-ministries.org. Those interested in supporting the nonprofit or the future restoration home, can do so at visit bit.ly/3qL6d6q or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.