Local women share their stories and make a difference for orphans and victims of sexual exploitation
By Katie Roberts
The ancients have long known the power of storytelling—passing along stories of ancestral heroes from one generation to the next. Narratives have the power to awaken our emotions and unite us in our humanity. They teach us and move us.
Two recently published compilations of personal stories are not only inspiring to read; they’re also igniting advocacy and serving as vehicles for charitable donations helping the most vulnerable among us.
Living on Purpose
An inspirational book called “Living on Purpose” was released in January 2022 and offers 12 stories of ordinary women who have overcome major obstacles in their lives. Miromar Lakes resident Beth Schomp formed the idea for the book while her husband, Russ, was battling pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed almost a year ago and underwent surgery to remove the cancer. But the Schomps live with the uneasy knowledge that there’s a 70 percent chance it could return.
On the night Russ came home from the hospital, Beth recalled, “I felt that God was telling me to live a normal life, as much as I can, despite these scary times. I knew I needed to find something positive to focus on. I cannot control our situation, but I can control how I react to it.”
In the past, she worked for a company that helps people improve their lives and met many women who have overcome a diversity of hardships. She wanted to compile a book that would share their stories.
“I always knew I am better at telling other people’s stories,” Schomp said. “When I reached out to these women, they quickly jumped on board and started sending me their experiences from when their lives were in dark place.”
Schomp found a publishing company and started to edit all the stories she received with the help of her sister. The process gave her hope as she and Russ walked through their own unknown journey. And she was never alone.
“As Russ was going through chemotherapy, my friends and neighbors have been helping us by dropping off cooked meals and taking turns to drive him to his appointments,” Schomp said. “Russ and I were impressed by the kindness that has been shown to us by our community. We both decided we wanted to pay the kindness forward by donating to Haven of Hope International for every time someone did something nice for us.”
Haven of Hope, founded in Estero in 2013, partners with orphanages around the world to provide programs that rescue, love, restore and equip abused and abandoned children. With a goal to raise the standards of orphan care, Haven of Hope gives orphans an opportunity to grow up and dream and lead a successful, independent adult life.
Once “Living on Purpose” was available for purchase, Schomp decided to donate all profits to the organization. To date, $500 has been donated.
“We are so honored and grateful for Beth’s generosity. Through these donations, we can help the young adults in our care to understand their God-given talents and begin their journey in living on purpose and making a difference,” said Alice Skaff, Haven of Hope International founder.
Beth and Russ chose Haven of Hope International because they have always been passionate about helping orphans, and the organization reminded them of an experience from the past. When their children were younger, they volunteered with Compassion International, writing letters to orphans around the world and teaching their own kids about the importance of helping others.
In the book, Schomp shares her own story of tutoring a young girl who was struggling in school. Now grown, she is the first person in her family to go to college.
“My desire for this book was never to make money or to gain fame,” Schomp said. “It gave me the opportunity to put something positive in the world. It also gave these other women a chance to share how they overcame challenging times. I hope these stories empower others and encourage them to be strong no matter what we face in life.”
One Story, Many Voices
Christy Ivie and Laurie Sammons share a passion for helping victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. Working in this area, they identified a huge need for awareness and educational materials. Four years ago, they started crafting a book, “One Story, Many Voices.”
While the book’s second half is full of resources, the first half shares a collection of stories from 10 individuals who survived sexual exploitation.
“The book offers a variety of stories because there aren’t any stereotypes when it comes to sexual exploitation,” said Ivie. “For example, we have learned that there are not enough resources for male victims, and they are often overlooked. We want to bring more awareness to these issues and that they can happen anywhere no matter the location, gender and other demographics. These stories are meant to start a conversation in Southwest Florida and nationally about sex trafficking and exploitation.”
The second half of the book provides strategies aimed at helping people who work with youth to identify sexually exploited children, learn how to report these cases and educate themselves on how to help these kids. The book also sheds light on childhood trauma and how it can have long-term negative consequences for survivors’ health and well-being, as well as put them at a higher risk of future victimization.
The reader will hear from “first-responders,” anti-sex trafficking and exploitation experts in law enforcement, education and healthcare who are speaking on behalf of children and adolescents who have suffered unimaginable sexual abuse. Readers will also learn about the various therapy approaches which have been shown to be beneficial in addressing survivors’ mental health issues.
Sammons has worked as a teacher for 45 years and has met a number of at-risk children who have been sexually abused. She understands the need to assist school staff members in dealing with these dreadful situations, as teachers encounter these children every day.
“As a grandmother to 17 kids, my eyes were opened to the dangers of the internet and social media use,” Sammons said. “Predators from all over the world have easier access to minors through gaming apps, social media platforms, and any other type of online chatting site. Children have always held a special place in my heart, and it is very important that school staff and parents become more aware of how they can protect their children from sexual abuse and exploitation.”
For Ivie, this project hits close to home. She is a survivor from two decades of childhood exploitation and now has a passion for helping other survivors during and after exploitation. In 2015, she started the nonprofit Christy’s Cause with the goal to eradicate child sex trafficking and exploitation through education, awareness, restoration projects and justice initiatives. She sees herself as a “freedom fighter.”
“I’ve always known I would use my childhood story to reach out and help children who are at-risk of sexual exploitation,” Ivie said. “I am excited to be a part of a unique and growing nonprofit organization that brings hope to an otherwise desperate and dark situation.”
All proceeds from “One Story, Many Voices” go to Christy’s Cause to continue the fight against sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
It all starts with a conversation and the sharing of personal stories to bring about change and awareness.
“One Story, Many Voices” and “Living on Purpose: 12 Women Who Made a Difference…and Still Do” are both available for purchase on Amazon.