Leah’s Place builds foundation for future
By Jasmine Willis
WAYLAND, NY — It will be a sheltering place for women and children who have suffered from domestic abuse and sex trafficking.
Leah’s Place has entered its next phase in the process of becoming an official nonprofit organization. Leah’s Place Founder, Jessica Levinson sat down with this local reporter to discuss the future of a life-changing project several years in the making.
“We have now selected a legal team to represent us in our journey to become a nonprofit organization. We are now raising fund for our legal fees. We have a Facebook page up now, and a link to our PayPal account for donations,” she said.
Leah’s Place needs to raise $3,500 to become an official nonprofit organization and began its mission to provide care for survivors of sex trafficking and domestic abuse.
Every year millions of women, men and children fall victim to sex trafficking worldwide, and due to fear of their captors, language barriers, or fear of law enforcement this has remained one of the most hidden and darkest crimes. It is no longer something that can be whispered about behind closed doors but has reached into our backyards.
Levinson, of Atlanta NY, is looking to shine light on sex trafficking survivors who need a place to rebuild after the trauma of being forced into a commercial sex act. She is a survivor herself and recalls her own journey into healing. It took a faith-based community to pull her out of the darkness. Levinson is hoping to pay it forward with helping others like herself know there is a place for them to go.
“We went from having two people on our team in 2018 to having eight people join our group in 2021. We are hoping to be fully operational by 2023. This depends on how long it takes for us to work with Child Family Services and Child Protective Services to make sure we can serve children. This will include our license to provide foster care,” she said.
Sex traffickers target vulnerable people by preying on their situations. They target and recruit victims by appearing to be a friend or potential romantic partner. According to Department of Homeland Security, It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.
Levinson’s vision for the organization is that it will began providing care for about three family units at a time. This means three moms with up to two children each at any given time.
“I would like to see our population stay small so that our program participants can receive the attention and level of support that at risk groups require,” she said. “We have selected a mission statement that widens our umbrella so that we can reach out to women that need respite from oppressive situations. This will provide help for not only sex trafficking survivors that need intervention, but at risk moms so that we can prevent trafficking.”
The starting point for this program will be mothers over the age of 18. The hope is to have a service for the youth once the program has gained its footing.
Leah’s Place got its name from a tragic event that shook the community to its core. Leah Clark,6, of Wayland was killed in a car accident on Sept, 14, 2020. Dinky Doo Petting Zoo and Pony Rides Too provided a dedication ceremony on Nov. 8, 2020 for the memory of this small child. Clark had a passion for animals and children. She would visit the zoo all of the time with her family. Levinson felt a connection to this child when her own daughter came home from school sad that she lost her best friend. She wanted to think of a way to honor this small child’s memory. From that came the birth of spreading love, kindness, and compassion to others. Dinky Doo Petting Zoo and Pony Rides Too teamed up with Levinson to provide a safe haven for children to come and feel a connection to the animals. It provided life lessons and programs for anyone who felt they needed a healing journey. From the ashes of a tragedy came hope.
“This kind of safe house is definitely needed. Sex trafficking is a grey area that not a lot of people know about. We are unique because no one else is doing what we are doing in the county,” Levinson said. “There is more evidence out there now sex trafficking and what it does to our society. There are studies done now from Loyola University on the health and outcome of survivors. Survivors have a whole range of human emotions to deal with once they get out, and we need to help them work on their lives beyond victimization. They have survived something significant. We call them survivors instead of victims to give them some dignity as human beings.”
Levinson said she wants to be a hub for change in the community. She wants to be a green light to serve and heal others through intense Bible Studies, animal therapy, and creating a safe place to go.
Levinson said sex trafficking impacts the entire society.
“Sex trafficking a destructive force on a human life. People who survive have a negative force on everyone around them. That negative force comes from everything that person suffered,” she said. “Once it is finished Leah’s Place will be our sex trafficking survivor outreach safe house. We will never disclose the address to the public for the safety of our survivors. We want to make a better life for our survivors.”
Levinson wants to break the cycle of generational abuse to prevent sex trafficking from gaining a foothold in our communities.
“I will take any women and child from anywhere I am allowed too. I foresee our program being limited to the parameters of New York State residents,” she said.
Levinson is working with Dinky Doo Petting Zoo and Pony Rides Too to provide a place for animal therapy. She is hoping to offer this as a service to those who are in the program. Animal therapy proved to be a great help to her and others who have been impacted by this trauma.
“I would like to offer the animal therapy to these women and children. I understand the benefits to help rebuild the traumatic brain. People who grew up neglected and not knowing that loving touch have a need for this therapy. Animal therapy provides a touch from a place of pure love,” she said. “I pray this will all come together in time. If we are blessed to grow once, we become a nonprofit organization I hope to provide a service for the youth. I feel they are particularly vulnerable and need more intensive care. I think if we start with adult women, we can break that generational trauma. I want us to do work with the family that will help maintain unity.”
Levinson added it took her a decade to foster that care and healing in her own journey. She doesn’t want to rush the process for these women. She feels the healing will take at least eight to 10 years. Levinson wants to leave these women better than she found them. She wants them to have the confidence they need to go out into the world knowing they have a community of support.
The mission statement of Leah’s Place is “Building bridges to freedom and healing from oppressive situations for women and children.”