28 Jun 2017 New Life for Lost Treasures
by Kara Walter, Development Project Assistant
I found myself in a panic two days before a dear friend’s wedding because I did not have a dress to wear! I confess, I already had seven dresses hanging in my closet, but somehow, none brought quite the satisfaction I wanted. Fortunately, I work directly above an adorable second-hand thrift store on Cleveland Avenue, across from the Lee Memorial Hospital called The Fig Leaf Boutique. To my relief, the first dress that I tried on after running downstairs on my lunch break was the exact size and color I was searching for, and even better, this new sixty dollar dress was only seven dollars –finding the original price tag still attached felt like destiny! Though the best part about it was not about the money, but the new life who helped me find it.
See, The Fig Leaf Boutique has the perfect partnership with Into the Jordan Ministries, a non-profit organization helping heal and restore victims of human trafficking and exploitation. The Fig Leaf Boutique was founded as a sustainable revenue source by New Mission Systems International, a mission sending agency in Fort Myers, but quickly became much more as they began employing women in our community in need of opportunity and another chance.
This partnership brought about the New Life for Lost Treasures program –made possible by the overwhelmingly generous people of Southwest Florida Community Foundation .This program employs trafficked and exploited women through The Fig Leaf Boutique, helping them gain job skills like showing up to work on time, looking customers in the eye, and learning how to work the register in order to create their first resume for full-time, long-term employment.
I had the opportunity to interview three of the women who have been in the program for more than two months. When asked to give one word to describe the New Life for Lost Treasures program, their answers were unbelievably humble: MERCY, GRACE, EMPOWERING.
“Mercy. It’s real. It’s all any of us are really asking for from God-to have mercy on us for the foolish things that we did, because you carry the blame of that, a lot. Just having the chance to do something that’s not sex work… there is something else that happens: the change is internal, and there is something beautiful about paying your bills with pride.” (Shared by the program manager, Melinda, a survivor leader).
“Amazing Grace keeps coming in my head. Grace. God’s Grace.”
“Empowering. It gives us a new hope. It keeps us busy. It keeps money in our pocket so we don’t have to think about making it in irrational ways…I am learning to become more professional and less emotional [at work].”
The goal is to have the skills and confidence to secure full-time employment to break the cycle of poverty in their lives and keep them independent for a lifetime. When asked if there was one thing that they could say to the Southwest Florida Community Foundation for making the New Life for Lost Treasures program possible, the women shared, “The only thing you could really give them is to continue to live your life doing [what] you should be doing –giving back the same way this was given to me –succeeding and not turning back to that former life.”
Thank you Southwest Florida Community Foundation for giving me an opportunity to help find a new life for these lost treasures –one dress at a time.
This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2017 competitive grant cycle. We have asked our 2017 grantees to send us their stories. The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $106 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.