O’FALLON – Being sold for purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation is a brutal reality for many children across the globe – and shockingly, it also impacts the Metro East because of its proximity to St. Louis, where trafficking is considered among the highest in the nation.
Jessica May of O’Fallon is on a mission to ease suffering among victims. In August 2018, May felt as though God called her to raise awareness on the issue of sex trafficking, which ultimately led her to form Renewed Strength Ministries.
The purpose of the ministry is to educate the community about the sexual exploitation and trafficking of young males in particular, while providing survivors with opportunities for healing and growth through a Christ-centered program where they can experience the renewal of their hearts and minds.
“It was a vision that God gave me,” May said of starting the ministry. Before she founded the organization, May did work with Covering House, a refuge for female victims of sex trafficking.
“One day he just revealed to me that he wanted me to open a home for boys,” May said.
May said she then went to Minnesota for a juvenile sex trafficking conference where she listened to survivor stories and learned as much as she could. Weeks later, Renewed Strength Ministries was established.
While she doesn’t have a background in therapy or social work, May said simply, “I just have a heart to serve.”
May said she especially has an affinity toward children that have suffered through traumatic experiences.
“It really saddens me to see them used and abused the way they are — whether it’s physical abuse, sexual abuse or mental abuse, it’s just not okay and that’s not what God called us to do with our children.”
“He called us to love them and take care of them and raise them properly. And unfortunately there are thousands of kids across this country that are abused on a daily basis.”
May said Renewed Strength Ministries and its focus on boy survivors is due to an absence of attention placed on helping male victims.
“I feel like it’s not acceptable in society to be a male victim,” she said. “I want to make sure I’m helping them bring back their voice and give them the help they need. I have a strong desire to follow where God is leading me and this is where he has led me.”
May grew up in different places around the world as she was in a military family. She came to O’Fallon in 1996 and is an OTHS graduate. She is married and has a 13-year-old daughter.
May said that statistically, boy victims tend to be underreported.
“They don’t identify as being victims very easily,” she said. “On average, they are 30 percent of child victims.”
She said that currently, there are only five homes across the country that are specifically geared towards helping juvenile male victims.
“That’s just not enough,” May said.
“As far as the Metro East area, St. Louis is actually number three as top city in U.S. for trafficking,” she said.
Along with May, there are members of a board that make up Renewed Strength Ministries. Kimberly Vander Ven, who is May’s sister, has worked with children for 14 years and is the organization’s director of program development.
Other board members are DeAnn Silvia and Samson Siame. Samantha John serves as volunteer coordinator for the organization.
Renewed Strength Ministries is the first of its kind in O’Fallon, raising awareness for male victims of sex trafficking. While the organization is based out of O’Fallon, May said the goal for her organization is to build a campus south of St. Louis to house 28 juvenile males in a safe environment.
The campus and refuge will be called Eagle’s Ranch. Survivors will be able to live in a home on 30 plus acres. There will be seven homes, a chapel, school, therapy center, wood shop and more. The environment encourages healing and helps victims learn life skills.
The program is geared at helping eight to 17-year-olds and will be considered long term.
May said many trafficking victims live in the foster care system.
She said the goal, especially with the older survivors, is to help them either get into a trade skill, find a job or go to college.
“Just teaching them that life skills (are important) so they can take care of themselves and transition into adulthood,” she said.
Eagle’s Ranch will be open to male survivors all over the country and not just the Metro East. The fundraising goal for Eagle’s Ranch is $3 million.
To find out more about donations and volunteering with Renewed Strength Ministries, visit https://www.renewedstrengthministries.org.