Five University of West Florida students recently collected donations to help furnish Set Free Refuge, a transitional living home in south Santa Rosa County for sex trafficking victims. The endeavor was the result of a spring semester service learning project in professor Jane Halonen’s positive psychology course. Renee Shomaker, Raleigh Gharbi, Mary Hunt, Savannah Burtschell and Dalia Fort-Frazee teamed together to help Set Free Refuge.
Set Free Refuge provides young women who are aging out of foster care transitional housing for up to one year in a safe, home-like environment. The Refuge, which can house up to three women at a time, helps stabilize and equip sex trafficking survivors to plan their next steps toward a normal life. Set Free Refuge is the only home of its kind in Northwest Florida that specifically provides care to child victims who are aging out of foster care.
“Through the process of our research, we were really surprised by how common sex trafficking is and that no one really knows about it,” said Shomaker. “One thing that is sad and we really took to heart is that often families are trafficking their kids for things like drugs or rent.”
The students collected furniture, household items and clothing from friends, neighbors, employers and other community contacts and delivered the donations to the home. Set Free Refuge executive director Marcie Rey Landreth MWS, RCSWI, said the home was empty until the students stepped in.
“The house had nothing and the students were instrumental in bringing in the items needed to be able to get these young ladies in the home,” Landreth said.
Halonen was proud that her students completed the project in just two weeks. Hunt said she believes UWF students can make a big impact in the community.
“If you have something unique to offer, you do not always need something in return,” Hunt said. “Simply helping someone else can be enough reward in itself.”
For more information on UWF’s Psychology Department, visit uwf.edu/psychology. To learn more about Set Free Refuge, visit setfreerefuge.org.