I remember volunteering as a victim advocate at one of the local shelters here in Phoenix. I had grown close to one of the residents in the program. As we began to meet regularly throughout the week, she shared her story with me about the struggles of life after being trafficked . She was three months pregnant at the time and because of her past, lack of education, and work history she could not find employment anywhere. Fear and worry crept in as she progressed in her pregnancy and her exit date approached.
During one of my visits, I asked her if she could think of a word that she was learning to embrace or resonated with her story. She thought about it for a day and when I came back she told me her word was "Endure". She told me that not only has she endured so much in her life already, but that she can endure more because she is actually stronger than she thinks. That stuck with me, even to this day. I went home with a stirring in my heart and came back the next day with a gift for her. I had stamped her word on a tiny penny and strung it through a simple chain. I wanted her to wear her word proudly and if she needed that reminder throughout her day to keep enduring, she just had to look down at her penny. I didn't know it at the time, but that was the first Soteria Initiative necklace.
As I continued working in the anti-human trafficking field in Arizona and pursing my degree in social work, I kept hearing very similar situations of individuals who had been exploited and trafficked. They were struggling to find work or to keep jobs because of the different obstacles and barriers in their life. I thought back to my days as a victim advocate and that resident with her penny necklace. Well, what if we could create a solution to that problem? I was just about to graduate with my Masters in Social Work from ASU, with no real intention of starting a small business or social enterprise. I mean, I wouldn't even know where to begin, but I couldn't ignore the growing need and the stirring in my heart was too strong to shake. Soon after graduating, I got engaged and two weeks before our wedding, The Soteria Initiative became an official LLC.
Looking back, it probably wasn't the smartest idea to start a new business venture and be newly married, but my husband, family, and close friends have been my biggest supporter as I learn to navigate through all of this. There have been great successes and great losses throughout this journey as the Soteria Initiative continues to grow and develop. My hope is to be able to employ more people and partner with other business and organizations to create more opportunities, because I can't do it by myself.
I'm grateful and humbled that you would want to be a part of the Soteria Initiative story whether it's through purchasing a hand made necklace, raising awareness about human trafficking, or even sharing your own personal stories and the meaning behind your word with us.
Founder of The Soteria Initiative