A WAY OUT
Strippers and prostitutes. Some 300-500 women work in Memphis strip clubs every day, according to George Kuykendall, director of Citizens for Community Values-and about as many walk at night on the city's notorious "Ho Track." The Memphis phone book lists 104 escort services.
CCV staff members and more than 100 volunteers partner with area churches to help women escape the sex industry. This year CCV's victim-assistance program, fittingly named A Way Out, has helped 31 strippers and prostitutes change their lives. Although she receives many calls for help, program director Carol Wiley said not everyone is willing to let go of the lifestyle: "We're very conscientious about making sure we get the women who really want help. The women have to be in a place where they're broken enough to want to make some changes."
Hope Stansell experienced both sides of the sex industry-topless dancing and prostitution. She started stripping when she was only 17, after a friend talked her into it: "I started dancing for one of the more prominent clubs here in Memphis. I had to use a fake I.D. to get in there." She also drank heavily and used drugs as a way to escape from a troubled home with a single mom. When Stansell turned 20, she gave birth to a girl-"By the grace of God, she was born 100 percent healthy."
Stansell's drug dependency landed her in prison a year later. She got out and started dating a man she thought truly cared for her: "He bought me anything I wanted," including drugs while she was still in rehab. After rehab, Stansell's "boyfriend" started to show his true colors: "He started beating me and made me do things I really didn't want to do. That's when I realized he was no longer my boyfriend. He was my pimp."
Stansell eventually turned in her pimp to the police. She went back to treatment and met Carol Wiley, who gave Stansell and her daughter Hayle, 4, a place to stay while they participated in A Way Out. (Wiley said finding housing has always been difficult for CCV. A California couple that read about CCV in WORLD helped relieve that difficulty last year by contributing $70,000 toward the purchase of a house for the women in A Way Out.)
Volunteers provided Stansell and Hayle with food, shelter, and clothing. A Way Out offered her classes on subjects like parenting and budgeting. Her mentor also introduced her to the love of Christ. Stansell said her favorite part of A Way Out was "getting to know the Lord and having a relationship with Him." Wiley said: "I have a firm belief that apart from Christ coming into their life, they're not going to make a permanent life change."
Hope is now one-third of the way through cosmetology school. She and Hayle are getting ready to transition out of the in-house treatment center they've been living in for the past year. They will be moving into their very own home, for the first time.
A HAND UP FOR WOMEN
The Knoxville, Tenn., branch of the Christian Women's Job Corps is another return finalist. Last year, WORLD told the stories of two participants in the nonprofit's program, A Hand Up for Women, whose lives changed. This year we'll tell another story, that of Angie Booker, who lives in a small, white house with green shutters in East Knoxville.
Two years ago, Booker lived in a housing project, used drugs, and spent a lot of time in a Knoxville courthouse: "My mother had my kids and my husband had left me. I shoplifted and wrote false checks to feed my drug habit. My life was in turmoil." Her case went to the local Drug Court, an alternative to prison for nonviolent offenders. A case manager there, who served on the board of directors for the Christian Women's Job Corps, noticed her and recommended she go to A Hand Up for Women. Though hesitant at first, Booker met Jani McCarter, an A Hand Up participant profiled by WORLD last year, and "Jani showed me so much love, it changed my whole personality. She taught me God loved me and I could do better-and He wanted me to do better." Booker met with McCarter and other women in a twice-weekly, three-hour evening Bible study. Each week she took drug tests, went to Drug Court, and reported to the probation office. A mentor helped her through every step of the A Hand Up program.
Booker dreamed of opening her own catering business, since cooking had always been her favorite activity. She took A Hand Up's classes on budgeting, resumé writing, public speaking, and interviewing. A volunteer taught her how to get a business license and liability insurance. She said everyone in the program encouraged her to pursue her dream: "After you've had a drug problem for so long, you feel like you can't do anything."
Now Booker owns and operates Angelouise Confection and Catering, while holding down another job two days a week making hot sandwiches at the local Panera Bread. Besides owning her own home, she has also worked and paid for her first vehicle. She said she owes it all to God and the help she received from A Hand Up for Women: "It's a program that will help you get your life back on track and make you the best woman God wants you to be."
EARTH KEEPER INITIATIVE
One more return finalist is at home not on mean streets but among dense forests, gentle streams, and Great Lakes: Michigan's Upper Peninsula is an ideal location for a project like the Earth Keeper Initiative. The purpose of the Marquette-based program is to teach people to care for the environment. It also exposes them to a wide range of religious beliefs.
Under the auspices of the Cedar Tree Institute, the initiative includes 144 congregations from nine religious groups-Catholic, Episcopalian, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian Church USA, as well as Reform Judaism, Zen Buddhist, Baha'i, and Unitarian Universalist. This year's big event was the Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep for Earth Day, April 22. Earth Keeper volunteers teamed up with the Superior Watershed Partnership, a neighboring nonprofit, to coordinate and carry out the event.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which partly funds the Earth Keeper Initiative, notes that traces of pharmaceuticals can end up in rivers, lakes, and even drinking water if they are just flushed or drained away. Earth Keeper gave people an alternative way to dispose of these drugs, some of which are controlled substances. More than 400 volunteers established collection sites at 19 area churches, where pharmacists and police officers were on hand to gather the pharmaceuticals.
Nearly 2,000 residents dropped off their unwanted painkillers, sleeping pills, syringes, and antibiotics, as well as personal care items like shampoo and lotions. One woman brought antique bottles of medicine, some more than 100 years old, from her father's old pharmacy. Volunteers collected just over a ton of pharmaceuticals, and staffers took them to an EPA-licensed incinerator outside St. Louis, Missouri.