I was getting ready to close up the office last Friday evening when one of our girls, Tiffany, showed up. She's 7 months pregnant and had been trying to leave her pimp for months. She'd finally gotten the courage to leave and had nothing but the clothes on her back. She went straight to her favorite staff person, Ericka, and broke down, clearly scared and overwhelmed by the huge decision she was making. As I watched Ericka counsel Tiffany, provide her with clothes, toiletries, and food, help her secure housing for the weekend, and hug her as she cried, I was struck by how the vision of GEMS had become a reality.
Ericka came to GEMS several years ago after watching Very Young Girls and learning about GEMS for the first time. She'd never understood that her experiences under a brutal pimp had been exploitation and were not her fault and she'd never known that there were services out there to support her. Ericka had never talked to anyone about the trauma she'd been through until the day she came to GEMS. After all the years of holding in her pain, it began to flow out of her literally the second she stepped into GEMS. I remember clearly the love and support that the staff and girls gave her that day.
Since that first day, Ericka's been an integral part of the program - as a member, then as a youth leader, a part-time administrative assistant, our full-time receptionist and now as our full-time intake coordinator who's frequently the first person to meet with girls and provide them with support in those critical early stages. Just last month, I cheered alongside her mother, her fiance, and her daughter at Radio City Music Hall as Ericka walked across the stage to accept her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology.
I'm so incredibly proud of Ericka and all her hard work and accomplishments and prouder still that she's chosen to give back to other girls and young women who so desperately need someone who understands their struggle. On Friday, as I listened to Tiffany tell me how much she appreciated Ericka, how easy it was to talk to her, and how much she looked up to her, I was struck by the fact that Ericka had come to GEMS because of other young women who had originally grown up in the program and chosen to give back too. It was the courage of young women like Shaneiqua, Dominique, Caroline, Shaquana, and Ebony who so openly shared their stories, struggles, and triumphs in Very Young Girls that gave Ericka the courage to come forward and get the support she needed. Five years later, she's giving that same support to Tiffany and so many other girls at GEMS.
It's incredible to watch this legacy of survivor leadership, empowerment, strength, and love being passed from one group of girls to the next to the next. In the last 14 years we've empowered three "generations" of survivors to empower so many other girls. Even as I write this email, I'm in Los Angeles where I just spent the last few days with two of our phenomenal Youth Leadership Fellows, Kaila and Rhea, who facilitated multiple workshops at an empowerment conference hosted by LA County Probation for trafficked and exploited girls. Both Kaila and Rhea told me how much of a mentor and inspiration our Survivor Leadership Coordinator, Sheila, has been to them. Sheila came to GEMS at 16 and, like Ericka is now a full-time staff member. She's yet another example of how our GEMS survivors are leading and creating change, in individual girl's lives and in public perception. And as last year's graduates of the Youth Leadership program, Kaila and Rhea are already doing the same, at GEMS and now across the country.
My vision, when I first created GEMS, was to build a community where women and girls supported one another and where survivors' voices, experiences, and expertise were at the forefront of the work. Over a decade later, I get to witness that reality every single day.
It takes a lot of work, resources, and support to create that reality though. Your support has been so critical in meeting the basic needs that girls and young women have when they're first exiting the commercial sex industry, like food, housing, clothing, counseling, and medical care. Just as critically, your support ensures that we can provide our strengths-based empowerment programming - like art, poetry and drama groups, mentoring, educational scholarships and support, paid fellowships and employment, and our award-winning Youth Leadership program.
I hope you feel as encouraged and proud as I do that your support is making such a difference. Perhaps your investment in our work provided one girl with housing, or groups, or a part-time job but our girls are taking that investment and tripling it as they not only empower themselves and create change in their own lives but reach other girls, who then go on to reach more girls, who'll in turn reach even more.
Please make a donation today and like our girls, consider doubling or even tripling your gift. Your support is creating a ripple effect in the lives of girls and young women GEMS serves. Tonight I'm asking you to throw the stone into the water once more. Consider it a sound investment in the future of an untold number of girls and young women, a gift that will keep reverberating for generations to come.
Founder & Executive Director