Today, we are honored to share our interview with the founders of Zera House — a nonprofit that provides a safe, loving home for women who have been trafficked and/or sexually exploited to heal and live out the purpose for their life. Read on to learn more about their work and how you can get involved.
We know and love your story and the Zera House mission, but can you share a little bit about Zera House and how it came to be with those who may not be as familiar?
Zera House founders Ariel Wager and Katie Van Gorp met for the first time in August 2015, at which time they immediately knew that they were called together to create a safe house dedicated to helping women who have been sexually exploited. This began a months-long journey to raise money (via GoFundMe) and gain as much knowledge possible through consultation with mentors and advisors in hopes of building a non profit organization with 501(c)(3) status. With the help of a supportive community, they were able to build their team and board by December of 2015, receiving official tax-exempt, non profit status at that time.
By August of 2016, they were given the idea of having a house in the mountains of West Virginia with the intention of building their program there. The house would be equipped with all that it needs to support Zera House, including enough room to house their women, land for the gardens, privacy from the road and places to volunteer and work within a short distance. Katie is an active board member while living overseas. Ariel is the director of the organization and is working hard to provide a safe dwelling for survivors of sex trafficking. They intend to open Zera House in fall of 2018.
We are excited about the home you are opening in the mountains of West Virginia and the women who will live there. What are your plans and goals for this home?
At Zera House, women will receive counseling, build necessary life skills, volunteer in the community, learn about sustainable living, and much more. Their main goal is to equip women with the skills, community, and personal resolve they need to function adaptively in society without returning to exploitive industries.
The idea of and motivation for Zera House developed as a result of Ariel and Katie’s journey with spiritual faith, and for that reason, the organization believes strongly in using faith-based rehabilitation. Not only can faith-based approaches help women recover from trauma and abuse, connection to a broader religious community is a strong protective factor that will open doors and prevent relapse. The name “Zera” itself was chosen with intention; it means seed in Hebrew. Zera House’s desire is twofold: to plant seeds into the ground while teaching survivors how to live sustainably and to plant seeds into women’s hearts and souls so they can live out the purposes of their lives.
Like Sudara, we know that Zera House is passionate about helping and supporting women. Are there women in your life who have inspired you or, even, continue to be a source of encouragement for you? (We all need cheerleaders!)
Several members of the team have personal experience with various forms of abuse. Some of us have endured relationship trauma that we have overcome, rose above, and conquered. Others observe abuse regularly in their line of work, such as our awesome police officers that volunteer their time for our team. Others have had opportunities before the inception of Zera House to work with survivors of human trafficking. The countless brave women who share their stories inspire us daily. Additionally, each team member is asked to establish a personal prayer team when they join our organization. This usually consists of 4-6 individuals that will agree to continually support, encourage, and pray for us and our individual needs.
We often get questions from customers about what they need to know before starting a non profit. We always say: “Changing the world is hard work!!” What advice would you pass on to someone who is thinking about starting a non profit or, even changing careers and following their passion?
It’s a process. One of our favorite stories is about the boy and all the starfish on the beach. A little boy is walking along the beach and there are a ton of starfish that have washed ashore. He starts to throw them back into the ocean to save them. A man walks up to him and says, “You can’t save them all.” The little boy replies, “ Yeah, but I saved one.” It starts with helping that one person. We had a vision and the Lord has made a way, one step at a time. This has been a 3 year journey and we are just now getting ready to open our doors. Patience and surrender are my two biggest words for the process.
When you dream big, what does the future of Zera House look like?
Our big dream for Zera House is to plant safe homes all over the country! We’re about to open our very first home, we are laying the groundwork for the second, and can’t wait to see where we go from here.
How can people get involved with Zera House’s work and support your mission?
There are so many great ways to get involved. We are always looking for financial partnerships–both one time donations and regular monthly supporters. If your business, church or other organization is interested in hosting one of our staff members, we would love to send a speaker out to tell you more about what we do and how you can help. If you visit our website, zerahouse.org, you will find a list of needs and a link to our Amazon wish list full of ideas. Another way to help our mission includes volunteering your time to help us renovate our West Virginia safe house and staff homes. Also, tell all your friends about us! You never know who might be really passionate about this cause and want to get involved. Spreading awareness is SO crucial. Of course, we always need and welcome your prayers as well!
Anything else that you would like to share with our fans about Zera House?
Zera House is so fortunate to have opportunities to partner with organizations like Sudara. There are so many wonderful groups out there fighting alongside us for this cause. If you are involved in any way, thank you! We love connecting with others, whether you’re interested in joining us specifically, or you already work for another organization and would just like to connect. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us just for the sake of networking. We all need such a wide variety of resources, it’s imperative to form relationships all over the country and the globe! There are so many pieces to the puzzle of ending the injustices of human trafficking and we are blessed to do our part.
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