INDIANAPOLIS — Throughout the years, the former Marion County Home at U.S. 52 and Carroll Road has housed different types of people with dreams. In the late 1990s, Russian orphans learned sewing and carpentry there. In recent years, college students have prepared there for standardized exams to earn credit.
Hubert Nolen hopes the 210,000-square-foot center at 11850 Brookville Road (U.S. 52) will one day house a new set of dream-seekers: women escaping sex trafficking and finding the skills to live healthy, productive lives.
Experts call it called modern-day slavery — the victimization of people in trafficking for labor or, often, sex. The National Human Trafficking Hotline points to 5,748 human trafficking cases reported in 2016. According to its website, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Trafficking in Persons, Indiana ranked in the top half of the states. It finished behind 21 other states and the District of Columbia with 66 cases.
“I think what (many people) would find most surprising is the prevalence,” said Jeanne L. Allert, founder and executive director of The Samaritan Women, a Christian organization in the Baltimore area that ministers to survivors of human trafficking. “We would like to think that if we’re just more educated, or we live in the suburbs or we have a certain amount of income, that we would be exempt from this.”
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Nolen wants to offer a place where women exiting trafficking can begin healing and obtain education and training to help them pursue careers.
Volunteers have been at the site this month cleaning and preparing. Nolen estimates it could take as much as $35,000 a month to operate the center — possibly more as professional staff are added. But he said as early as October that half to two-thirds of the 2017 funds were in. “It enables us to hit the ground running,” he said.
In February, he stepped away from his role as lead pastor of Brookville Road Community Church, the job he’d had for 33 years since the church’s founding. He said he did so because he felt God was leading him to lead a new work, the Hope Center. Less than a year later, the Hope Center has a campus.
In late 2016, Nolen secured an agreement to lease the campus at 11850 Brookville Road. The site includes dorm rooms — some of them furnished — and a kitchen, cafeteria, coffee shop and auditorium. The campus also features a barn and a greenhouse.
Melissa Yao, spiritual care director of The Samaritan Women, has toured the Hope Center site and likes what she sees.
“It’s got tremendous potential,” she said. “It has a tremendous amount of challenges as well.”
Nolen’s lease agreement with the Illinois-based Institute of Basic Life Principles runs through Dec. 31. What follows after that is the option of renewing the lease or buying the property after that with help from donors. The institute owns the property and operated the International Home for Children that once housed Russian orphans here. More recently, it was home to Verity, a faith-based program to help college-age students earn credit through standardized tests.
Meanwhile, Nolen has been leading a weekly study for people to learn more about the issue. He’s asking those who want to volunteer at the Hope Center after the women move in to go through this training, even if they’re offering to help clean or work in some other less interactive role.
At last count eight churches are represented at the study. About 10 churches are pledging support to the effort. Their contributions are vital, as Nolen anticipates it will cost $1,500 per woman per month to provide the education, health care, food and other needs. In addition to contributed funds, Nolen hopes to raise money and awareness through 5Ks and further defray costs through the coffee shop and through the online shop portion of hopecenterindy.com, where supporters can offer a $50 sponsorship to help a woman or buy a T-shirt or tumbler for themselves.
Staff will be another cost of operating the center. Nolen anticipates hiring a program director and a mental health counselor. Each woman will develop an educational plan, and volunteers will help tutor the women.
If there are several women with a common need, say a particular level of English or math class, the center will work to arrange that.
The eventual capacity of the facility could reach up to 150 women, but Nolen anticipates 12 or fewer in the first pilot group.
Yao and Allert recommend that Nolen and his team start small — they see about six beds at the average facility — and carefully define their mission and program before bringing in residents.
“You have to literally script out what’s happening every hour of the day,” Allert said. “When law enforcement is looking to make a placement, they want to know what your program is.”
For the moment, though, the focus is on preparing the facility.
Volunteers have been at work already in the first weeks of 2017 preparing the site — painting rooms, shampooing carpets, washing and folding linens and arranging furniture.
Sheila Sexton, Hope Center volunteer coordinator, said more than 50 people have helped there over the past four weeks. When the focus shifts from facility to programming, she said, “the need for volunteers will continue, but the type of volunteers will change once the building is together.”
Allert said those who want to support such a facility need to be careful to ask what is needed and not assume what is needed; trying to drop off unneeded items, for example, would only complicate the work.
“The support from the community needs to be the right kind of support,” she said.
Find out more about the Hope Center at hopecenterindy.com or at the Hope Center Indy page on Facebook.