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Refuge of Light is taking a new direction by transitioning to supervised independent living for 18 to 22 year old female survivors of sexual trafficking. 

The local nonprofit has provided residential treatment for minors younger than 17 since 2018, but is changing to serve adults because other youth centers are now serving the area’s needs.

Missy Zivney, the Refuge’s spokesperson, said many young adults are no longer eligible for foster care services when they turn 18, but they still need direction, education, training and enhanced case management to be successful on their own.

“We’ve seen numerous girls come through our program and they just weren’t ready,” Zivney said. “They graduated our program, but they weren’t adults. They really needed a huge support system following them.” 

Zivney and her parents Norma and Mike Mullican opened ROL as a specialized foster home in 2014 and transitioned to a residential treatment facility in 2018 to provide better care for minor victims of sexual trafficking through counseling, education and outreach.

However, since ROL opened their program, other centers for youth have opened in the region, including Hope Haven in Lindale and Heart’s Way in Tyler.

“We’ve done this a couple of times and we’ve transitioned [before],” Zivney said. “We try to go where there’s the biggest need, and so this right now is the biggest need that we have seen.”

Zivney said ROL will continue to provide mentoring and life skill lessons for younger girls in their education program known as the Brave Girl Program. 

ROL board member Donna Fraser runs the nonprofit named Rescue and Restore based in Tyler, which focused on educating youth about trafficking during the pandemic and previously ran a nonprofit in Arizona. ROL’s leaders are responsible, caring leaders who are looking to help girls who have aged out of the foster system.

“These girls — from 18 to 22 — that’s when they’re just starting to mature,” Fraser said. “They are just starting to see, ‘What do I want to do? Do I want to work? Do I need a place to live while I go to college?’ and so forth.”

ROL partners with state and national organizations, including the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force and the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

A house manager and direct care mentors work with the residents to provide assistance with daily living needs. Each resident will have her own case manager who will direct care and services for the former victims.

ROL is still eligible for grants and private donations to support operating and staff expenses. Individuals can contribute monetarily, donate supplies, or volunteer. The center welcomes donations of grocery staples, canned foods, paper goods and pet therapy services. Individuals can also donate gift cards, which will be used as incentives for complying with the program.

ROL also needs volunteers willing to work with girls one-on-one and who can help with transportation. For information about ROL, visit www.refugeoflight.org.

Donations can be mailed to Refuge of Light, PO Box 132703, Tyler, Texas, 75713, or on the organization’s website.

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