INNOVATE IN·NO·VATE \IN-UH-VEYT\ V. TO DO SOMETHING IN A NEW WAY.
It’s one word with the potential to spell a lot of good in middle and north Georgia. And that is just what the Diocese of Atlanta’s Ministry Innovations Task Force is hoping to facilitate with Ministry Innovations matching grants. They are designed to provide seed money to help encourage and develop a culture of ministry experimentation, explains Missioner for Engagement and Innovation, the Rev. Donna Mote. “We want to move into making connections with people we don’t already have connections with,” she says. “Look beyond the building where you worship. There may be some invisible people there.”
It’s a challenge to get out in the community, consult with your neighbors and find a way to serve and get involved with community members and partners. Ministry Innovations grants are used to fund ideas that have yet to be undertaken in the diocese or in the community where they are to be implemented. Mote encourages people to ask: “How can we partner with you and serve alongside you?”
One person who has risen to the challenge is Chimen Rogers. A member of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, she is one of the first recipients of a Ministry Innovations grant. Her mission: to show victims of sex trafficking who have been arrested for prostitution that there is an alternate path. “A lot of these women don’t know they’re lovable,” she says. “My hope is that they will come to know the love that is available to us all.”
Inspiration for the innovation came from Tennessee. There, a mission called The Hannah Project has provided women an alternative to jail time and fines, as well as a way off the streets.
Chimen first learned of the project through a lecture held at The Cathedral of St. Philip and followed up with several visits to Tennessee. She then went to work to see if there was a similar need in her community for a pre-trial diversion program. She’s since formed alliances with court systems in metro Atlanta and a few nonprofits that currently provide services to people caught in the sex trade.
“A lot of these women don’t have the information to transition away from this lifestyle,” Rogers explains. Rogers would also like to see The Hannah Project Atlanta offer STD testing and education and counseling services so that even if women aren’t ready to leave the lifestyle right away, they can be safer in the meantime.
The first place she hopes to implement it is in DeKalb County. Rogers would be the first point of contact in a process it is hoped will lead women to choose a 20-week diversion program offered by the DeKalb County’s Solicitor General. Known as the Phoenix program, it is an alternative to going to trial. It offers counseling, life skills, GED credits, and requires clean drug tests.
Rogers’ plan is to offer a four-hour introductory session that would include her serving the women a breakfast and lunch to nourish body and soul. The program would also offer the opportunity to hear from sex trade survivors that change is possible. For now, as things are finalized, Rogers can be found in court, making herself available to refer women to existing resources within the community.
When asked how she has a heart for folks so many people may want to turn a blind eye toward, Rogers is empathetic. She explains that many were abused and neglected as children. Then, without anywhere to go, they run away and are picked up by pimps or others who exploit them and offer food, shelter, clothing and false love.
She knows pain, isolation and how challenging it can be to deal with abuse. She was molested by a teacher as a child, and that’s where she feels a connection, she explains. While she didn’t have to take to the streets to escape her abuse, she came to get the full amount of emotional support she needed as an adult. She wants to give these women similar backing.
“You treat them as you want to be treated,” she says. “Helping people like I have been helped. All the times I have had somebody there for me, I want to return it.”
INTERESTED IN APPLYING FOR A GRANT?
Fill out the one-page form on the project you’d like to undertake and the steps you’ve taken so far to secure partnerships to make your ministry happen. The Rev. Mote will be in touch to review your initial application.