Hi there, and welcome to The Avery Center.
Nearly a year ago, Jessa and I were standing on the corner of the street in downtown Denver on a drizzly fall morning. We had decided to do a mini overnight retreat with a handful of local survivors who were colleagues and friends. As we waited for several of them to get their Starbucks orders, Jessa and I began talking about what we saw in our future careers. She shared her desire to pursue a PhD and to continue with her speaking, training, and consulting, and navigating the challenges of juggling running an organization, building a career, healing, and overall creating a life in and out of work that she loved. I shared my excitement over The Avery Center’s rapid growth over the past year, and my longing to see more survivors employed not only in direct services but in other anti-trafficking efforts too, and how hard this field was for many survivor-led organizations to gain traction with sustainable funding. We didn’t come to any decisions that day on next steps, but when I look back, I see how pivotal that conversation ultimately was for both of us in where we are each headed today.
When I first met Jessa, I remember thinking she was one of the sweetest, most genuinely kind-hearted humans I had ever met. I can sometimes be loud and crass, and she had such a calming effect on those around her. When she talks to you, she is fully present in that moment, and she has an authentic desire to know you and come alongside you in your hurts and triumphs. I had no idea, when we first connected back in 2015 that our paths would continue to cross and that she would become such a friend and mentor, in addition to a brilliant colleague. I was so impressed by her and John’s vision to create an accessible way for survivors to be connected with available services and to bring further awareness to the fact that trafficking impacts all ages and genders, and happens in all parts of society, including our neighborhoods and homes.
In fact, Jessa was one of my trusted friends and colleagues who challenged me to think beyond my perspective on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation that was shaped by my own lived experience, and gently encouraged me to expand my language and content in trainings and to take a closer look at how Free Our Girls (The Avery Center’s name at the time) could be more inclusive in who we walked alongside. Sitting in that discomfort was only possible because I had friends like Jessa Crisp and Anna Smith who loved me through it and let me wrestle with what I needed to grow. Since that time, Jessa and BridgeHope have continued to work and walk alongside myself and our team here at The Avery Center as we support survivors in their journeys to freedom.
This spring when Jessa reached out to see if we could have a call, I immediately felt a shift in the tide. I knew that Jessa was moving forward on her PhD journey, but I didn’t know exactly what changes were coming until that call. As she shared her and John’s journey and BridgeHope’s thoughtful considerations about what was next, and she posed the question if The Avery Center would be able to step into the space BridgeHope has held here in Colorado and nationally for direct services, I said “YES!” without a second thought. While it was hard to think about the landscape of survivor-led organizations in this space changing yet again, I was also so excited to hear about what was next for Jessa and John.
And so, we move into this new chapter of learning and growth with the support of Jessa behind the scenes. The Avery Center’s Services department continues to provide a wide range of services for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation that are gender inclusive, individualized, and have low barriers for accessing. We are committed to centering the voices of those of us with lived experience through evidence-based services and policy advocacy work. It is such an privilege to have worked alongside BridgeHope these past several years, and I am taking the responsibility of honoring their vision very seriously.
As we move forward in this next chapter of reducing demand, holding traffickers accountable, and reducing barriers for marginalized communities, I am excited to have you join us for the journey. We look forward to sharing with you about the brilliant team members here at The Avery Center and the work we are doing in regards to prevention, identification, economic empowerment, peer support and so much more!