Two years ago while on vacation in Costa Rica, Gainesville native Holly Lynch received an unlikely call from God to embark on an extraordinary mission.
The 29-year-old said she felt the Lord pulling at her heart to start a home for underprivileged and exploited girls in the Central American country. She accepted God’s call and never looked back.
“I was on a vacation to Costa Rica, staying in the penthouse and getting my tan on,” Lynch said during a recent trip to Gainesville. “Three months later, I found myself on the front porch of a prostitute’s house, surrounded by underage girls whose mothers were selling them, and they were asking for my help.”
Since then, Lynch has helped several children, who were forced by their parents to participate in prostitution as a means to make money, through Seeds of Hope Homes. The nonprofit organization provides prevention, education and rehabilitation for girls who have been sexually exploited, sexually trafficked or are at risk.
Lynch, who graduated from then-North Georgia College & State University before getting a master’s degree in business from The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., was working for Target when she decided to leave her life in America behind to help Seeds of Hope.
“In April 2012, when we met our girls for the first time, I realized they had huge dreams,” said Lynch, now a guidance counselor and the former executive director of Seeds of Hope. “But there was this huge gap between where they wanted to be and where they were.
“They asked me if I was going to help them or not. When I said ‘yes,’ I knew my life would never be the same.”
At Seeds of Hope, participants are taught English, the Bible, vocational skills and provided group and individual therapy through an in-house psychologist. They also make and sell jewelry to bring in money without resorting to prostitution.
Program workers also list the girls’ dreams on the Seeds of Hope Homes website, www.seedsofhopehome.com.
“I want to learn English because I like how it sounds, and I like to hear the Americans talk. If I could change one thing in the world, it would be to end prostitution,” one aspiration reads.
“I want to study to be a doctor because I want to have the blessing to save lives. If I could change one thing in the world, it would be the mistreatment of women and drug addiction. I feel loved when I do things well, like helping people in need. I have passion in my life to be a better person,” another states.
Seeds of Hope started out as a residential program to gain temporary custody of the girls, but Lynch and other volunteers soon discovered they could make a larger impact and reach more girls by operating a day program. It is designed to reach adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who are living at home but may be at risk.
It seems to be working. The Costa Rican government recently asked Seeds of Hope to replicate its program in Jaco, a common destination for sexual tourists.
To continue her work in Costa Rica, Lynch is raising awareness about the human trafficking problem in the United States. To do so, she has an ally in Lula.
Mike Queen, owner of Mike Queen Handgun Training, recently found out about the increase in human trafficking in Georgia. To raise awareness, he created a Facebook page for the issue and contacted Lynch after a friend told him about her efforts in Costa Rica. He was amazed at the work Lynch and the organization does for the victims of human sex trafficking.
“I watched a TV program about human trafficking and my heart broke for those children,” Queen said. “I felt the Lord pulling me in that direction to do something to help.”
Now, he sends 20 percent of the profits from his handgun training lessons to organizations such as Seeds of Hope.
Queen and Lynch met in Lula when Lynch was in Gainesville for a visit recently. The two were amazed at the other’s heart for helping the victims and promoting awareness in Northeast Georgia. They decided to partner to fight human trafficking and help its victims.
To do so, Queen and Lynch are planning a fundraising event in Hall County to raise awareness for the prevention and rescue of human trafficking victims. The Aug. 23 event will feature vendors and food as well as a surprise guest speaker at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Hall County. Lynch also will fly in from Costa Rica to speak. Proceeds and donations will benefit Seeds of Hope and the Georgia-based anti-sex-trafficking organization Street Grace.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported in two years the number of calls to its hotline has doubled. About 365 cases related to human trafficking in Georgia have come from calls to the hotline. Bigger cities such as metro Atlanta, Augusta, Buford, Athens and Savannah experience more cases because of the human trafficking market.
Many sex trafficking victims are children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the exact number of child prostitutes in the country is unknown and estimates vary widely. But the estimated average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, while girls as young as 9 years old have been known to be recruited.
Many of these underage workers are not involved in sex trafficking willingly, but are lured or kidnapped and forced to do so. The anti-sex-trafficking organization Shared Hope International has reported underage sex workers average 6,000 clients in a five-year period and are usually forced to serve between 10 and 15 clients per night. However, reports confirm girls have served as many as 45 clients in one day during peak demand times, such as major sporting events.
Several agencies focus on victims of human and sex trafficking in Georgia. The Georgia Care Connection Office specializes in the rehabilitation of victims of sexual exploitation and offers free services to help families cope with the situation. Five nonprofits specialize in victim rescue and rehabilitation: Street Grace; Wellspring Living; Tapestri; A future. Not a Past Campaign; and Savannah Working Against Human Trafficking Campaign.
Two of the organizations, Street Grace and Wellspring Living, along with youthSpark, will participate in Lobby Day on March 13 at the State Capitol.
Queen plans to be there, too, to lobby to stop human trafficking.
“I realize I’m just one person,” he said. “But if every ‘one person’ like me would start by doing one thing to help, then I believe we could have a huge impact on bringing an end to this horrible trade called human trafficking.”