It doesn’t just happen in Thailand
by Joyce Rempel
The call could come any time of the day or night. A desperate woman on the other end of the line says, “I’m done. I need out. Can you help me?”
Becky Bradbury, an outreach worker with Next Step Ministries, replies. “Yes, we can. You’ve taken the first step. I’ll meet you.”
Next Step Ministries (NSM) exists to help vulnerable and exploited women in Calgary. When Phil and Jackie Reimer established NSM in 2010, their vision was seeing women exit sexual exploitation and discover their identity. Their mission is to walk with these women as they break the cycles of addiction and abuse, to have a safe place for every woman who wants out.
NSM has four programs that work together to help these women move towards a life of hope and healing: Outreach, Housing, Day Program, and Follow Care.
First contact comes when Becky goes into the community and hands out a simple card that asks, “Are you done?” along with a phone number and the statement “Helping women exit sexual exploitation/trafficking.”
When they do call, someone always answers. NSM has a 24-hour phone staffed by a live person, not a machine. “When women call in, they want help now,” Phil emphasizes. “They’re desperate. They’re on the run or they just broke away from a gang and they need a place.”
There are more than 3,000 women in prostitution in Calgary. Becky gets 10-15 calls every week. The Outreach Program meets women exiting sexual exploitation, helping them access resources and create an exit plan. Becky meets with the woman who called. “If she’s ready to get out,” Phil says, “Becky will do a more extensive intake form and she’ll explain to her what we expect.” If they make it and choose to proceed, the Housing Program provides second-stage housing for women exiting sexual exploitation. They are given their own room with a key so they have a safe place to call their own. NSM has two houses that enable them to accommodate up to eight women.
These are staffed by an independent live-in volunteer, a high-capacity mentor. Phil calls them Urban Missionaries. They usually have a job, or they’re in school, but live at the house. Jackie explains this relational component: “The Live-In gets to know the women, every part of their lives.” The women cook meals together, watch movies, go to special events. “One of our Live-ins makes campfires, celebrates birthdays, she’s a rock star. But she also sees the pain of them making horrible decisions, and when they aren’t succeeding, it’s pretty tough.”
The next step in the program is the Day Program. While the women are in the housing, they attend classes four days a week to work on recovery and life skills. “We try to integrate healthy community into everything we’re doing,” Becky says. “Trauma happens in relationship and trauma heals in relationship. In our day program, we limit it to nine women, because it’s very intentional and relationship-based.”
The Classroom is filled with affirming quotes, books, and supplies. The curriculum Jackie has created with a counsellor includes discussions around relapse prevention, codependency, the five love languages, anger management, conflict resolution and more. There is a mix of facilitation and teaching, along with group work. For recovery, they work through the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous), and hear presentations on getting through the violence and trauma that’s been put upon them. A creative component includes art therapy, and equine therapy is very healing. There is a spiritual component with the Alpha program and a voluntary Bible study. The women also meet one-on-one with a caseworker, goal setting, planning, and making sure they get what they need.
The women volunteer at World Serve, a local church arranges for the women to make low-budget freezer meals for themselves and NSM connects with organizations that help the women find employment once they’ve finished the Day Program.
“We give them Wednesdays off,” Jackie explains, “because they don’t know how to do self care. There are multiple things to do when they first arrive. A lot of them don’t have ID when they come to us. They have so many appointments: doctors, eye doctor, dentist, lawyer, counsellor.”
“What we’re trying to do,” Phil says, “is get their teen years caught up so they can become independent and function when they leave. We tell the women this is a great chance to start over and find out who you are.”
NSM will connect them with a volunteer in the Intentional Friends program. They get food with volunteers from LeftoversYYC and build community connections, so that when they leave the Housing Program, they have resources and supports.
The final step is the long term Follow Care program which helps the women get jobs, permanent housing, and follow their educational goals. Participants are able to access staff support at any time.
When the Reimers established Next Step Ministries, they wanted to focus on the relationship aspect, the safety aspect, and the spiritual aspect. They felt God moving them to present a choice to these women, “For us, the choice is the Christian faith,” Phil says. “We can discuss any kind of faith, but we’re coming from the Christian perspective.”
Once women begin to have healthy people in their lives who value them and care about them, and they have opportunity to accomplish new things, they begin to realize, “I do have some value. I have something to offer.” And then they begin to consider, “Maybe God loves me, too.”
“We felt like that was the missing piece,” Jackie adds. “It was our main drive. The women should at least be given the opportunity to get to know who God is, and whether or not He can make a difference in their life. The reason we started NSM was to allow them to have that freedom to choose.”
NSM does not access government grants or funding which comes with restrictions on what the organization can do. They depend heavily on volunteers and appreciate any financial donations or gift cards (for grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Superstore or Dollarama). Their program, 100 Next Steps, is seeking one hundred people to each donate $25 a month. The monthly giving is what keeps an organization running. The fall fundraiser is Ride for Refuge, a family-friendly cycling or walking fundraiser that supports charities like NSM who provide refuge and hope for displaced, vulnerable and exploited people. Phil is recruiting during the summer for the ride on October 5.