The sun’s early morning rays filter onto the quiet, screened porch, as a floral-scented candle is lit, flickering across five earnest faces. “This light is for the woman still on the street, living in darkness. May she find her way home.” This daily ritual includes a devotion, and one by one, intimate thoughts are shared. There was a time every lady in this circle subsisted in a black gloom—an indescribable hell, sold for money and drugs. Yet each is glowing within, illuminated by a beacon of hope at Jasmine Road, a transformational residential program, nestled in the heart of downtown Greenville.
“My first job out of Furman was working with pregnant teens,” recalls executive director Beth Messick. “My first encounter was with a 9-year-old girl. Her family didn’t have enough money to make rent, so her father would have men over and sell her. This was in the late ’80s.” Fast forward to today, and the married mother of three adult children is still helping those caught in sex trafficking. “Back then, no one had a word for it. It’s sexual exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion. It’s gotten more sophisticated with the advent of the internet, and dealers have found it’s a lot easier to sell you a woman over and over again.”
Prior to Jasmine Road, Beth had determined the community wasn’t fully equipped to help women trapped in prostitution. “You have a plethora of things that have happened,” she explains. “In human trafficking, you’re talking about someone who has emotional experience that typically includes childhood abuse, a multitude of sexual assaults. They’re going to be domestic violence victims, probably homeless. They’ll have a very low education, or lack of education, and drug addiction. They’re in and out of the detention center, usually for crimes committed for survival.”
Kathryn Norwood found herself in a rare position in 2015. The Greenville native was accustomed to some serious volunteer work that included fundraising for the Children’s Museum of the Upstate, and the Performing Arts Center at Christ Church Episcopal School. She was coming off a season of rest, when she heard about Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based nonprofit helping sex trafficking survivors reclaim their lives. “I always felt if there was some way I could help someone have the same opportunities that I’ve had, I really wanted to be able to do that,” she reveals. “And if I’m going to help somebody, I want to really change their life. I always had this desire to do something where I could connect resources with people who don’t have them.”
Kathryn started coupling links to form a chain of local groups to mimic Thistle Farms. Across two years, she recruited Beth, and the ladies labored alongside Triune Mercy Center and Christ Church Episcopal to secure funding, programming, and support for Jasmine Road. In the spring of 2018, five women moved into the airy, three-bedroom home, filled with colorful paintings by local artists, and most importantly, love. “During their two years in the home, we offer ways to get them back on their feet and go into society and function,” the board chair details. “It’s counseling, addiction recovery services, yoga, art therapy, education. We’re putting all of those pieces together.”
Two residents are currently enrolled in their third semester at Greenville Tech. Two have purchased cars. They have jobs they love. One even assists Beth behind bars, sharing her story of survival and hope with incarcerated trafficking victims. “Their world opens up, and their gifts start blossoming,” shares Beth. “We’re loving these women back to life and seeing the people they were meant to be.”
Plans are solidifying for a second home that will triple the number of women in the program. And now, 18 months into their residency, the ladies of Jasmine Road are about to open Jasmine Kitchen on Augusta Street. Kathryn says, “It’s a training ground for learning. They’ll be mentored and have the ability to explore various areas of business, nutrition, marketing, and culinary skills.” Beth closes citing the many positives. “It has been an unbelievable journey for these ladies. They are rarely the women I knew and followed around the street. To see them now, to see them mature and begin to love themselves again, it’s just incredible.”