Roots: I’m originally from Oklahoma City, OK. I lived in the same house same city until I left for Texas to attend Baylor. Since then, I’ve moved so many places-too numerous to mention. I have lived in Austin, TX since June 2010.
Family Life: We’re one of those crazy, messy blended families. My husband, Calvin, and I have 4 children and 3 dogs between us: Oldest son Joe is 27 and married to our daughter in love Samantha, they live in Houston; son Austin is 21, and daughters Mary Beth 19, and Erin 18, all in college. Our daughters take credit for introducing us, which is technically true!
Work Life: I’m currently the Founder and Executive Director of The Refuge. Before that I was a hospital chaplain and prior to that a missionary in Costa Rica. In addition, I’ve worked at several Foundations. I’ve been in some type of nonprofit work for over 25 years.
My favorite quote…It’s something my Grandfather said often to me: “Life is an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”
I’m most inspired by…people who despite very adverse circumstances, live a life of gratitude and joy.
The best advice I’ve been given…It was advice from one of my dearest friends and mentor, Kellie, that has walked through the darkest of times with me. On the very worst days she would say: “Don’t borrow grief from tomorrow. All you have is today so do the very next thing.” This has been a point of reference for me no matter what is going on, good or bad, and it is basically the truth we find in scripture in Matthew 6: 25-ff. We’re told to not worry about tomorrow, that will have enough trouble of it’s own, but seek first the Kingdom of God, and all other things will be taken care of.
Something people may not know about me…I’ve played the piano since I was 6 years old. I write music/songs.
If I weren’t in my current career I’d be…an Emergency Room Nurse.
I’m most looking forward to…I’m looking forward to meeting the first girl who will live at The Refuge!
When I’m not working, you can find me…In the mountains of Colorado, specifically Telluride: hiking, skiing, fly-fishing-anything you can do in the mountains.
My Story: Providing Hope & Healing for Child Survivors of Sex Trafficking
The trajectory of my life changed completely in June of 2002 when I took a team of women to Guatemala to work in an orphanage for a week. Like many, I thought our little band of women from our church would go to this foreign land and “bless” many of the 500+ children who lived in this orphanage called Casa Aleluya. Instead, the children, staff and the land of Guatemala changed and blessed me, actually turned my life upside down. Before I left for Guatemala, I was living very comfortably in a beautiful home in The Woodlands, TX. I had two healthy children that I was able to stay home with while working a part time job in which I was able to set my own hours and the flow of my work. My life was tidy and predictable and I was in control of it. In addition, I had great friends and family nearby. I didn’t really have a plan for my life other than to be the best mom and wife I could be, and provide a comfortable and easy life for my children. That woman got on a plane to Guatemala that June and never returned. The night before our team left Guatemala to return to the states, I was so overwhelmed by the experience I’d had, the stories of the children, and the sacrifice by the staff, I spent the entire night in the rain on the roof top patio of our hotel, crying out to a God, who up until then, had fit into my neat box of understanding and control. What I had seen and experienced in Guatemala did not fit my paradigm with how the world should work. I asked God how in the world I could think He was good if He allowed so much suffering and evil to occur. Despite that turmoil, I also promised Him that I would spend the rest of my life helping hurting children.
A year later, I was enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary working on a Masters in Intercultural Studies and Mission. However, the jolting experience I had in Guatemala paled in comparison to what happened to me my first year of seminary. During a chapel service, I saw a video of young girls (ages 5, 6, 7) being rescued out of a hole underneath a brothel in India. These precious little girls were held in this hole during the day and brought out at night to be sold for sex. That was their life: captive by day, sold at night. My daughter, Mary Beth, was 6 years old at the time and so the horror of that reality literally broke my heart. I was unable to stop weeping for over an hour. The chapel cleared out and my advisor found me sobbing. He said: “Brooke, look around you. There is no one else here crying like this. Clearly your heart has been broken and clearly this is the calling on your life.” I knew to my very core that was true and spent the next three years in seminary researching what was happening to children around the world in regards to poverty, abuse, and sexual exploitation. Upon graduation, our family moved to Costa Rica for language school. But while there, I learned that Costa Rica was one of the top places in the Western Hemisphere
for child sex trafficking. That led me to connect with a small group of social workers and missionary women who were working with those girls in one of the worst slums outside of San Jose, Costa Rica. I did that work for four years. It was dark and frustrating work with very few resources to help the girls. I was assigned to work with one girl in particular, Mercedes. She came to our center unwilling to speak or even look you in the eye. Her mother told us she was deaf and mute. I soon learned she was neither, she was severely traumatized by her experiences of abuse and exploitation. I began to dream about how I could help Mercedes if only we lived in the United States where I had access to all the resources necessary to help her heal from her extreme trauma. I worked with Mercedes for 4 years, mainly just showing up and loving her, encouraging her and telling her that her life mattered. By the time I left, Mercedes was working on continuing her school, laughing and dreaming about a future. Leaving her to return to the states was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Upon my return to the states in 2010, I began asking around who was helping and working with children who had been trafficked. Frankly, I was angry and dismayed that our country was not utilizing our resources for our most traumatized and vulnerable children-those who had been trafficked. I knew it was very complicated and wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew that if our small team of women in Costa Rica could help girls with very little resources and in very dangerous and uncomfortable situations, we could certainly bring people together in Austin to do the same. That belief and dream took shape in October of 2013 when I met with a man over coffee who had a similar passion to help child survivors of sex trafficking. At the end of our meeting he asked me if I wanted 50 acres to build this dream of a healing community for children. I said “yes” and it was then that The Refuge for DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking) was born. It’s been 3 years and we just broke ground in October 2016 on our 48 bed therapeutic ranch for young girls who are survivors of sex trafficking. We have an amazing team of folks on our staff and on our Board, along with tremendous community support. Had you asked me upon my return from Guatemala 14 years ago if I could envision this today, I would have said no. But, I would have said, “all I can do is the very next thing as I seek God’s will and His Kingdom. I trust He will take care of what I do not know today.” And if you had asked me 3 years ago if we’d be in a place of building one of the largest therapeutic ranches in the country for child survivors of sex trafficking, I would have said no. But, I said then as I say today: “in the end, no matter what happens, because of Mercedes, I realize the power of one. I don’t know if we can help 48, but I know we can help one. And, that’s enough.”
One person, consistently walking alongside another person, loving them, believing in them, speaking truth into their life and in essence laying down their life for another, is the greatest force for healing in the world. Yet, lest you think it was me giving that to Mercedes, just as I learned in Guatemala, it was Mercedes giving that to me.
The Refuge Ranch Austin
The Refuge Ranch provides long-term, holistic care in a pastoral and peaceful setting to girls 11-17 who have been rescued out of sex trafficking. Each girl in our care will have her own plan of restoration, which we call her Circle of Care, unique to her age, situation, and needs. On site schooling, a medical clinic, therapeutic programs that include equine, art, music and pet therapy, along with one on one counseling and group therapy with licensed professional therapists are all part of our long-term, residential care. The girls are housed in specially designed cottages providing safety and security, but a sense of family and community as well. For more information, check out The Refuge Ranch website.
iGnite is offering 2 Donation Classes benefitting The Refuge Ranch next Friday, December 9th. All donations given for Core Flow at 7am and Vinyasa Yoga at 8:30am at Breath & Body Yoga at 2415 Exposition Blvd. 78703 will go directly to The Refuge Ranch. See full schedule and more information about classes here.
iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.
Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to email@example.com
So inspired! Thank you for bringing attention to an incredible woman and important work!! xoxo
Absolutely wonderful and inspiring story!
I agree, Catherine and Elaine! We are so thankful to have learned about Brooke’s story and the genesis of Refuge Ranch. I too am inspired by Brooke’s faith, her heart and her deep desire to help these abused young girls and women. The idea of sex trafficking is sickening, more less to learn that it exists in our own communities…our own backyard. It’s unthinkable and is something that no one should ever be subjected to. iGnite is eager help spread the word and raise awareness and funds for Refuge Ranch so the rehabilitating and healing process of these precious victims can begin and they can start living the lives that God has created them to live. We also hop that with a strong community effort, we can eradicate the horrific and terribly destructive industry. In the words of one of the most inspiring women to have ever lived, Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.
Thank you again for reading and helping us spread the word!
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Thank you for this. I am in the last stages of publishing my fiction book titled, Pushing back the Darkness…to help bring awareness to America’s runaways that fall into human trafficking.
Thank you, Laura, and thank you for helping bring awareness to human trafficking. Please let us know when your book is published too. Best of luck and blessings to you! Neissa