Wichita nonprofit plans to help former sex workers turn their lives around

Vicki Bond sees a metaphor in everything.

She leads the Raise My Head Foundation, a nonprofit that is building a home and community that she hopes, over the course of two years, will transform the lives of former prostitutes in Wichita. It is holding its first major fundraiser on Thursday.

Sex workers are similar to mislabeled cans of soup, she said – society has discarded them without seeing their true potential inside.

The foundation is like the Kansas sunflower, rooted in the soil of the Wichita community but which will reach its full potential through a community of women who will – like the petals of a flower – show off to the world what they are capable of, she said.

And the home the foundation has purchased to house the women during their two-year transformation has a long history but will soon be refurbished, a physical reminder of the past the women came from and the future they can look forward to.

“I love the fact that it creaks,” Bond said, climbing the stairs of the house recently. “These women have been on such a journey that their body creaks and their bodies tell of a journey that they’ve been on.”

Her own journey to this house started with a prayer. Although she is the chief operating officer of a major local medical service company and a mom to three, a few years ago, she said, she was wrestling with what her spiritual contribution to the world would be.

“I asked the Lord to give me something I can wrap my arms around,” Bond said. “Give me something I can dive in deep with, give me something I can adopt for life.”

One day at church, a singer from Nashville, Tenn., dedicated her song to Thistle Farms, a nonprofit there that helps rehabilitate former sex workers. So Bond went home and looked it up on Google. She was inspired by what she saw and decided to visit.

When she showed up, a woman invited her in and immediately asked Bond whether she wanted to see her mugshot.

“And it didn’t look anything like the woman that was in front of me,” Bond said.

“She had the same skin type as I had, she had the same hair color as I had, and she looked me in the eye and she told me the journey that she had been on,” Bond said.

“And all that I saw before me was a beautiful woman, a beautiful smile, a contagious laugh, and I thought: ‘Wow, what a transformation, what a transformation.’ ”

So Bond came back to Wichita and asked around to see whether there was a similar program here and was told no. She asked police how prevalent human trafficking is here and was told there were hundreds of cases a year.

So she started telling her friends, gathering women for a board and forming an official nonprofit. The program is modeled after Thistle Farms, where women spend their first year in recovery, going to AA meetings and group therapy. In the second year, they develop professional skills and work on getting their GED.

Becca Stevens, the Episcopal minister who founded Thistle Farms, urged Bond to start slowly and listen to the women as she built her own program. So Bond returned to Nashville many times to ask for the advice of the women there, several of whom she now calls her friends.

One of them, Jennifer, said she spiraled into a drug-addled funk at age 19 after her baby died and then was persuaded by a boyfriend to start selling her body. She told Bond not to worry that the house only has a bathtub and not a shower.

“Sometimes we just want to soak in the tub,” Jennifer told her. “Don’t put a shower in there: We like to soak in the tub.”

The Raise My Head Foundation house was chosen in part because the bedrooms are upstairs, which will give the women privacy when guests are over. It’s near a bus line that will take them to AA meetings and the Wichita Sexual Assault Center, where they can take yoga for trauma victims. Bond did not want to disclose its location publicly for security reasons.

She was told not to let women room by themselves and that the biggest need for the new house is to expand the kitchen, because that is where the women will want to congregate.

The back of the house has a a yard where they can eventually learn to garden and a shed with electricity that might become a place to work. Thistle Farms sells oils, body lotions, tea and candles the women make themselves.

While Bond would like the theme of the house to center around sunflowers, which already grow in the front yard, she said it will be up to the first women to decide what they want to do.

In the meantime, she said, many women have called and volunteered to help teach them to garden, cook, sew, paint and even balance a checkbook. And, as she spread the message to different churches in the community, she is starting to receive calls about women who want to apply.

Although the nonprofit is based in nondenominational Christian principles, religious adherence is not a pre-requisite for women to be accepted.

The foundation’s board wants to have enough money to pay off the mortgage before it accepts anyone so the women don’t get halfway through the program only to be forced back to the streets. And it wants to secure $500 of support per month for the four women over two years – $48,000 in all.

That doesn’t include money needed to pay for fixing walls, expanding closets or renovating the kitchen, not to mention health insurance.

Jennifer and Stevens will travel from Nashville for the gala Thursday. Bond wants everyone to hear Jennifer speak so they can see what women like her gain from the program and what people in Wichita can learn from women like her.

“Vicki, always look up,” Bond said Jennifer once told her. “Because I spent so much time looking down I never took the time to look up.

“There is this big beautiful sky up there to look at – and it’s gorgeous.”

Reach Oliver Morrison at 316-268-6499 or omorrison@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ORMorrison.

More info

What: A fundraiser to support the Raise My Head Foundation with speeches, music by “Soul Injection,” an auction and a Tuscan dinner provided by Taste and See

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Ville at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 123 S. 160th St. in Andover

Cost: $75 per person; $450 for a table of six

More info: To donate or volunteer, contact Vicki Bond by e-mail at vickib@raisemyhead.org.