Chances are, you know one. Maybe you are one…a Richmond Mom with a mission.
Each month, we are introducing you to a new maternal mover and shaker—an inspiring, make-a-difference mom right here in our own community.
A little over a year ago, my tween daughter and I happened upon a human trafficking awareness poster. Paraphrased somewhat, the statement “We need to end slavery in Virginia” boldly headlined the piece. Incredulous, she erupted, “There’s no slavery anymore!”
Bet there are many Americans, Virginians, Richmonders who believe the very same thing…
Thankfully, a word-spreading, compassionate woman right here in Richmond is working diligently—to not only increase awareness of the reality of 21st century slavery—but to healing and making the lives of those directly affected, better.
Meet this month’s RichmondMom with a Mission: Andrea Valencia-Bailey of The Gray Haven Project.
Andrea, what is your official title/role within The Gray Haven Project?
Gray Haven Andrea:
I am the Co-founder of The Gray Haven; I have also worn many hats at Gray Haven, and because of our growth in the past year, we are evaluating what that will look like in the coming years, which is really exciting! Currently, my title is Director of Client Services, and I dedicate my time to working alongside our direct services staff, ensuring that they have what they need to succeed, and to ensure our clients receive the best care possible.
What was the catalyst that made you decide YOU personally needed to take action?
In my late teens and early twenties, I thought I would like to one day open a safe place/home for women and children victims of violence. Then I met my Josh and he told me about contemporary slavery and human trafficking—how he had learned about it through social media, and the fact that it was happening in a far away countries. After he shared this with me we shared the passion of one day moving across the world to help in any way we could; the idea of moving kept getting farther away from the reality of life. However the issue itself always stuck with us, to the point that we could not look away. A year after Josh and I got married, we heard a speaker talk about being afraid and thinking “What is it that I am supposed to do?” He challenged the audience to ask ourselves “What do I want my life’s story to tell?” He went on using human trafficking as an example saying something along the lines of, “Fighting an issue like human trafficking is not something we need to ask if God cares about. He is waiting for people like us stand up to do something about it.” Those words meant so much to my husband and me at that time, because we were at that pivotal time of deciding what to do with the knowledge we had acquired on the issue and we were contemplating how could we be part of a global movement to fight it. It was at this same time that we started to learn more and more about the issue happening right here in our own community.
Please tell us a bit about what you do with Gray Haven.
Currently I provide guidance and leadership to the team that provides direct care and support to survivors to assure the best care possible. However, before we had staff, I wore many hats, from training and recruiting volunteers, to providing services to survivors, to manning the table at an outreach event.
What is the goal of the organization?
The Gray Haven’s goal is to provide hope and restoration to victims of Human Trafficking (men, women, children victims of either sex or labor trafficking). Our goal for our clients is to empower [them] to reclaim their individual freedom to dream, and to help them find healing in a community of safe people. Understanding the barriers and root causes of human trafficking equips us with knowledge to inform our community, local, and state government on how we can actually end human trafficking in Richmond. So, through direct services to victims, we want to see victims living free and empowered, and our community actively engaged in making Richmond slavery-proof once and for all!
What has been accomplished so far?
Well, we are a fairly new organization. We are driven by small and big accomplishments in the lives of the people we serve instead of the numbers. However, when Josh and I started TGH, we always told ourselves that creating TGH was about treating each survivor like they were the only one we serve. It was about the one person, not just numbers. Now, after two and a half years, we have been able to make it “about the one” with over 70 people. We established a non-residential facility as a “one stop” for resources in the community, providing coaching to help victims/survivors achieve their goals, and walk a journey with them without the fear of anyone giving up on them. Then, in April, we opened the first safe house specifically for survivors of trafficking in Virginia. That was a huge realization of a dream for us.
What makes you proudest personally about your affiliation with the group?
The culture within TGH and what we can accomplish with the people we serve. At TGH we carry a culture where we focus on the hope that we can shine in the darkness of the issue. We find ways to make the restoration process for the people we serve as light as possible and at the same time we are ready to go through the hard times together with them. Most importantly, I am proud of every single person we have served. They have made TGH what it is today and will be tomorrow. The resilience, strength, and sweetness of every survivor and their relationship with TGH make me proud of being affiliated with TGH.
What’s next on-deck?
This is a tough question to answer for big dreamers like Josh and myself. For TGH, I see continuing to do what we do and continuing to learn the best way we can go about serving and loving on survivors. We are exploring expansion outside of the Richmond area, but we want to stay focused on doing what we do with excellence.
How can others get involved?
TGH has great partnerships with businesses and organizations and is always looking to increase the community network. We also rely on the support of trained volunteers to provide an array of services. Some include teaching different life skills, accompaniment to different activities, transportation, crisis response, as well as different administrative tasks for the general functions of the organization. Our work is made possible by volunteers and by the many generous people that support our mission financially. Lastly, we always encourage people that there is power in using their voice to simply educate those around them about this issue. The more people that know about it, the more we can identify victims, and more importantly, prevent it from happening.
How does your family feel about what you are doing?
Hmm…we have received a different array of thoughts during the past four years since we started. At the beginning some were “It is great what you are doing!” to “You are quitting your job? Which means you will have no health insurance” or “You don’t have to do this.” Now that we seem less crazy and probably look better nourished, we hear the “we are so proud of you”, “I love what TGH represents and how you love people”. We have a very supportive family, parents, siblings and extended family that have provided encouragement along the way and at the same were afraid for us to give up the job with benefits and safety net that it brings.
Thank you so much, Andrea for all you are doing for victims of human trafficking in Richmond, and beyond!
Want to get involved? Learn more about The Gray Haven Project and their mission by visiting their website at TheGrayHaven.org.