–By Hannah Dorss –
In 2013, Grace Williams, a graduate of JPCatholic’s Certificates in Philosophy and Theology, founded Children of the Immaculate Heart, a nonprofit organization serving victims of human trafficking.
Children of the Immaculate Heart’s apostolate is small but growing steadily. At this time, Grace and some fellow JPCatholic alumni run the house. Jenna Christakis, a newly graduated business and producing student from JPCatholic, is the Marketing Assistant for the organization, while Vanessa Jimenez, a graduate from JPCatholic’s MBA program, is the Office Manager.
Along with Vanessa, Jenna, and the rest of her staff, Grace runs a home for adult women who are stuck in the sex trafficking industry and seeking help. Providing housing and restoring their clients’ belief in love is the main concern of the organization. Without a safe place to live, there is very little chance of victims escaping their bad situations.
In addition to housing, Grace and her team do everything they can to shower the ladies with little acts of love. She highlights the importance of these little actions, explaining that they are vital to helping the women they serve feel safe, trust people again, and understand their dignity. At Children of the Immaculate Heart, the women also have resources such as therapy, case management, and job training available to help them gain pragmatic skills and eventually reenter the workforce.
Grace and her team believe in something that brings them all together in their work at Children of the Immaculate Heart. They believe that Love is essential to a human being’s everyday functioning. And they recognize the damage and pain that ensues when a person no longer experiences love, or when the love they know is so twisted that it’s almost unrecognizable.
This is a reality for many, especially for the victims of sex trafficking. Sadly, the aftermath of the days of “sexual liberation” has caused many of the most vulnerable members of our societies to be enslaved, physically and emotionally, to those who take advantage of them and their desire for love.
Today, sex trafficking is the primary means of sexual enslavement, even in Southern California. In San Diego county alone, human trafficking brings in approximately $810 million in revenue each year, with around ten thousand victims affected by the industry. Gangs are responsible for a few thousand of these victims’ situations. Many females are just young teenagers at the time of their first contact with the sex trafficking industry. Sex trafficking is very difficult to escape, due to financial duress and manipulation; victims often are convinced that the sex trafficking industry is where they are finally appreciated, desired, loved. With little help and with a damaged sense of self-worth and love, victims sex trafficking seem doomed to a miserable, transactional love forever.
This is why Grace established Children of the Immaculate Heart. Grace was first exposed to the need for helping victims of human trafficking in 2012 when she was on a bike mission called Bike for the Unborn. She explains that that mission really brought her closer to “understanding her own redemption through Christ’s glorified wounds.” Grace felt that God’s providence was present at that point in her life in order to call her to work entirely for the suffering victims in the San Diego area. The ministry of Children of the Immaculate Heart is something much needed in these areas, as government regulations for similar homes are extremely strict. The safe homes that do exist neglect to further the inner healing and repairing of victims’ sense of self-worth through Christ’s love.
At the time when Grace felt the call to establish Children of the Immaculate Heart, she had been taking classes for the Certificate Programs in Philosophy and Theology at JPCatholic and was planning on entering the Benedictine nuns. However, she was flexible to the plans that God had in store for her. No other cause spoke to Grace as much as this one. Concerning other social causes, Grace explains, “They’re all absolutely worthy, but I can say without any exaggeration, this is one of the most grossly under-served populations.” The need is so great that Grace has to turn people away on a weekly basis because of a lack of resources.
Grace explains that the victims of human trafficking have been overwhelmed by experiences which distort sex, love, and friendship. Through her organization, Grace focuses on showing her clients what love and friendship really are, and helps provide ways for them heal from their wounds and co-dependence. As Grace explains, the ultimate hope is to help the women they encounter, as she puts it, “ to understand their own redemption through Christ’s glorified wounds.”
In the near future, Grace plans on building another house for teens in order to serve the younger victims of the industry. The average age of entry is sixteen, and so far, San Diego has no safe haven for these younger girls to go to. Eventually, Grace would like to have a house for pregnant teens too.
God’s grace has been abundantly showered on Grace and her fellow JPCatholic alumni who have opened their eyes and hearts to the plight of some of the most broken of His people. John Paul the Great Catholic University’s mantra, Impact Culture for Christ, can take on many shapes. For Grace, it’s little acts of love, safe housing, and restoring people’s trust in humanity.
Below, you can watch a short documentary about Children of the Immaculate Heart, produced by Vanessa Jimenez for her MBA in Film Producing thesis project at JPCatholic (2015):