Debra Brown displays the check presented to her by Manny Soliz, Jr. at a fundraiser last fall.
Effort began following near death experience and vision
By Allen Payton
Four years ago, Debra Brown was given a vision.
“On September 17, 2010, a year to the date after I got out of the hospital from a near death experience, I had a vision that I was to start a restoration facility for victims of human trafficking,” she said. “I really didn’t know about human trafficking, and was completely unaware of its existence in our country. I did see the movie ‘Taken’ a year or so before but I thought it was a Hollywood thing and in another part of the world.”
“I was in my hot tub. Sentences started downloading in my head and it was a trip,” Brown stated. “’You will facilitate the opening of a safe house for victims of human trafficking in Contra Costa County’ were the first, exact words. The sentences continued. ‘Many people will come to help you’ and then ‘Many people will come to know Me through this’ and ‘You did not meet your husband by accident.” Then the next words were ‘I will provide the funding.’
Then a detailed floor plan of the facility was imprinted in her mind. She got out of the hot tub and went in the house and immediately began drawing the floor plan. Since then, an architect has drawn up the preliminary plans from what Debra drew.
It wasn’t the first time she had a supernatural experience.
“I had an out of body experience when I almost died and I was begging Jesus to take me,” Brown said. “I was looking down and saw the nurses and doctors around my bed, but was wondering why no one could hear me. In that instant I was back in my body and they were ambu-bagging me, giving me oxygen.”
“I didn’t tell anyone, right away,” she added. “Then I started feeling depressed that Jesus didn’t take me home to Heaven to be with him. Then I thought why would I want to go, I have a good life, a great family, a great job.”
Then she shared her experience with a Christian friend, who told her “He didn’t take you because He has a plan for you, a purpose for your life.”
Up until that time, Debra called herself a “holiday Christian” only attending church two times a year, Christmas and Easter. She started attending church and Bible study.
Now she knows what that plan is and she began working on it right away.
“We formed our non-profit, Pillars of Hope, and held our first board meeting within a month of the vision,” she added.
Since then Brown and the organization have been raising funds to build the safe house, which they hope will be the first of many and will locate it in Contra Costa County, as God told her to do.
They also spent the first year getting educated on the subject, including attending what’s known as a Freedom Summit, which is held every other year. The next one will be in May of 2015.
Surprisingly, the need is great in our county. It’s everywhere and in every state in this country. The Bay Area is in the top 10 areas for human trafficking in the country, according to the FBI.
“Unfortunately Antioch is seeing an increase in sex trafficking and parents need to be aware of the dangers out there to our kids” she stated. “Traffickers can make $250,000 to $300,000 per girl per year so nationwide there has been an immense increase in gang involvement. Unlike drugs, victims can be sold over and over.”
They have already helped and guided some victims to resources and look forward to being able to house them and really provide the restorative care that they all so desperately need. The organization regularly holds trainings to get awareness to the public and also to get their volunteers the necessary training to be able to work with the victims once their safe house opens.
About half of the trafficking victims are used for sex and the other are used for labor, including being forced to work in restaurants, nail salons, agriculture and as domestic servants to name a few.
Many of the labor victims are Hispanic and Asian. Shockingly, 72% of the identified sex trafficking victims are American citizens or legal residents, and many of them are teenage girls, but some are boys. The average age of entrance into sex trafficking in our county is 14, nationwide it’s 12.
But, the average age of rescue in Contra Costa is 17 ½ year old, which means the biggest need for restorative care for 17 and up.
They have a private investigator on the Pillars of Hope advisory board, who has helped rescue some girls who were victims. Earlier this year there was a Brentwood girl who went missing and was found in Oakland, being trafficked for sex.
There was another recent case of an Antioch girl who was abducted and later found in Stockton being trafficked for sex out of a hotel.
Former Antioch Mayor Pro Tem and Councilman, Manny Soliz, Jr. is their financial planner and his wife Mary will soon be joining the board.
So far the organization has raised about $60,000 and are now pursuing grants, as they have a budget of $1 million to buy the house and provide the staffing. That’s just for the first phase.
“There’s nothing quite like this, that we’re doing, in the country,” Debra said enthusiastically. “Nothing of this magnitude. It’s going to be great.”
The first phase will be for (girls and) young women age 17 ½ and up, with counseling for trauma, specialized programs to help with the whole mental, physical and spiritual healing process, as well as job training and life skills. Future plans include a heavily-armed facility for at-risk girls and a facility for children under age 18.
The need is so great, as there are only a couple of specialized facilities in Northern California with so few beds. Some of the rescued victims are put in Foster care or group homes, but without restoration they end up running away and return to the street and back into “the life,” as it’s called, Brown added.
The next fundraiser for Pillars of Hope will be a crab feed on February 28, 2015 at the Pittsburg Senior Center. Pittsburg’s vice mayor, Sal Evola, and his team of crab masters, will be cooking again this year. To buy tickets or support the effort, call (925) 457-3977 or visit their website at www.pillarsofhope.us.