Kristi House awarded Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant

Kristi House awarded Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant for program to rescue commercially sexually exploited girls

(MIAMI – August 1, 2011) Kristi House has been awarded $1 million in grant support for its program for girls who have been sexually exploited and trafficked in the sex trade. Kristi House’s Project GOLD was one of 10 projects chosen in the country in the highly competitive 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Local Funding Partnerships program. RWJF awarded Kristi House a half million dollars that has been matched 1:1 by local private funders.

These funds will go toward supporting services for girls ages 11 to 18 who are being bought and sold in the commercial sex industry. Most are living dangerous lives on the streets and are under the control of pimps and traffickers. Support will enable Kristi House to staff a drop-in center and emergency shelter, planned for an early 2012 opening.

“Many people are shocked to learn that children—domestic children—are being bought and sold for sex, with the average age of adolescents entering prostitution at 12 to 14 years old,” Kristi House Executive Director Trudy Novicki said. “Most people think it’s a foreign problem and can’t believe it’s happening to children in their own communities.”

“These children have suffered unspeakable trauma and are not ‘bad kids.’ They have notchosen degrading, dangerous lives,” said Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. “Kristi House is leading the way in changing how we view these victims, and developing a model for our state and country for treatment and recovery.”

Project GOLD was nominated for the RWJF grant by Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade, Inc. Local funding partners also include Palank Memorial Foundation, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Health Foundation of South Florida, The Ware Foundation, Hugh and Eliza Culverhouse, Trish and Dan Bell, List Family Foundation and The Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation. Kristi House was selected out of 181 applicants nationwide for the highly competitive 2011 RWJF Local Funding Partnerships matching grants.

“Kristi House is a leader in the nation on this issue. They operate one of the few programs of this kind, providing a continuum of services for a very high-risk population of girls,” Debi Harris, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade, said. “Women’s Fund is proud to have been the first organization to fund Project GOLD in 2008, and we are gratified that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has recognized our nomination of Kristi House with this award. The funds will help achieve the realization of a shelter in our community for this overlooked cohort of victims.”

“Kristi House was the first Children’s Advocacy Center in the country to address the issue in a significant way and has been a leader among the 528 accredited members,” Chris Newlin, executive director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center said. “Commercial sexual exploitation of children is no longer an unrecognized problem and many communities are now working on ways to protect them, often using the model developed at Kristi House. These children are victims, not criminals.”

Kristi House began its program in 2007 by bringing together a community-wide collaboration of law enforcement, victim advocates, social service providers, child welfare and juvenile justice specialists in Miami. Kristi House’s partnership of some 27 different agencies formed the Miami CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children) Working Group and has been key to Miami’s national leadership in the field, informing and guiding Project GOLD, working cases together and rescuing girls.

“Until Kristi House began its Project GOLD, no services existed for runaway girls when we would pick them up off the streets,” Captain Rick Gullage of Miami Beach Police said. “The shelter will give us a place to take girls we rescue while we work to put the pimps and traffickers behind bars.”

Along with Miami-Dade Police, other key partner agencies involved include Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe; University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Adolescent Medical Education and Community Health Division; Florida Department of Children and Families; Miami Beach Police Department; Miami-Dade County Juvenile Justice Services Department; and His House Children’s Home.

Project Director Sandy Skelaney explains that the Project GOLD name, which stands for Girls Owning their Lives and Dreams, was coined by program participants because when girls get entrapped “in the life,” they have very little left of their own.

“Project GOLD seeks to give them back their hope, dignity and sense of self. Through peer mentoring and professional guidance, we try to help them restore their lives, and make plans to achieve their highest aspirations,” Skelaney said.

Along with health service linkages, mental health intervention, street outreach and prevention programs, Kristi House aims to build community capacity—in South Florida and beyond—to treat and heal victims. Kristi House has frequently presented the topic at national conferences and is called upon to help other communities launch similar programs.

In the coming year, four cities in Florida will receive training from Kristi House as part of a U.S. Department of Justice program that is funding dissemination of the Project GOLD model. Testament to the growing recognition of the problem, the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has offered several grants in the past two years
specifically for programs addressing commercial sexual exploitation of children, or CSEC, which is also referred to as Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, or DMST.

“As the U.S. Department of Justice said in its report to Congress last year, the threat of child sexual exploitation is very real, whether it takes place in the home, on the street, over the Internet, or in a foreign land,” Novicki said. “We look forward to making significant advances with this support from RWJF and all our local funders who stepped up to the challenge.”

“Kristi House is a remarkable organization that gives hope, offers refuge, and provides a healing environment for children who have been sexually abused and their families,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “The fact that children are abused is devastating, and it is comforting to know that community organizations, like Kristi House, are available to help victims and families with their recovery.”

A 17-year-old former client, who has successfully completed the Project GOLD program, said: “This is terrific news. The shelter will help so many girls who really don’t have any other place to go…girls I knew when I was on the streets. I’m jumping up and down!”

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.

For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visitwww.rwjf.org.

Kristi House is the Children’s Advocacy Center for all of Miami-Dade County and is dedicated to providing a healing environment for child victims of sexual abuse and their families. This approach includes coordinating client families’ involvement with legal, medical and mental health systems, limiting the number of interviews to reduce the trauma associated with each retelling of the story, and ensuring that no child falls through the gaps in our complex child welfare system.

Kristi House also directly provides a full continuum of wrap-around services and care for victims and their families free of charge. This includes therapy, which is critical for recovery from the trauma of sexual abuse for most survivors.

Kristi House is located on the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital campus at 1265 NW 12 Ave. Its south facility is located on U.S. Highway 1 and 152Street, and its north facility is located at 18441 NW and 2 Avenue. Founded in 1996, Kristi House has served more than 8,500 victims of child sexual abuse and their families. Thousands more are reached every year with education and prevention outreach programs.