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'All of this is for them': Group opening safe house for sex trafficking victims
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'All of this is for them': Group opening safe house for sex trafficking victims

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A community project involving months of volunteer labor and support is approaching the finish line.

Selah Freedom, a Florida-based charity organization with a mission to end sex trafficking, is set to open its newest, and largest, safe house at an undisclosed Kenosha County location.

Volunteers spent the past eight months transforming a crumbling 7,700-square-foot building into a charming, fully staffed, 24-hour facility.

It will offer a safe residential program for survivors, implementing numerous core initiatives in educational planning, job placement, trauma therapy, life skills and medical assistance.

Kenosha was chosen for a safe house because of its proximity between Chicago and Milwaukee, a 90-mile corridor overflowing with sex traffickers and victims.

Selah Freedom has a safe house in Chicago, which is at capacity, and three others operating in Florida.

“When the girls walk through our house, we want them to feel valued,” said Jennifer Skanron, a Selah Freedom board member and Pleasant Prairie resident.

“Their lives were not made to be trafficked. They are a person of value, and they’re important. All of this is for them. There are people here who are ready to help them transform their lives.”

The 1927 structure was fully gutted and renovated. The open-concept design boasts nearly two dozen rooms, including nine bedrooms, four bathrooms, a sprawling lower-level kitchen, commons area, workout facility and an office for staff members and volunteers.

The cost of the project significantly exceeded the budget, according to Skanron.

“We ran into many unforeseen challenges,” Skanron said. “We had to do a lot of things we didn’t think we’d need to do.”

Donations and volunteers

Selah Freedom launched a nationwide fundraising effort for the project, while local subcontractors generously donated supplies and their service.

Volunteers from numerous local organizations assisted with demolition, flooring, painting, landscaping and various other jobs.

Groups were invited to “adopt” rooms and decorate with matching furniture, accents and decor.

Zach Molgaard, owner of Kitchen Cubes LLC in Bristol, has been involved in the project since the beginning.

In addition to donating kitchen cabinets and countertops, Molgaard took on additional duties as an upaid project manager and volunteer coordinator.

“My wife (Kristin) started working with this organization and has a heart for it,” Molgaard said. “Our company was planning on getting involved, and it just evolved into more opportunities.”

Open feel

The home has an open, airy feel with plenty of natural light entering through updated windows and skylights.

Workers preserved some of the building’s 92-year-old charm with original hardwood flooring and exposed brick interior.

Against the Grain, a local reclaimed wood company, donated materials for the grand foyer.

Local subcontractors Raasch Construction, Valiant Electric and Lee Plumbing donated labor and offered supplies at a discounted rate. Kohler donated high-end plumbing products for the bathrooms.

Other local companies involved include K.C. Masonry, Carpetland USA, Grand Appliance, Mattress Firm, RB Floor Sanding, RE/MAX Newport Elite agent Felicia Pavlica and Bill Hull Landscaping.

“We took a 1927 building down to nothing,” Molgaard said. “Once we started peeling back the onion, we realized this thing really needed some TLC.

“I’ve been able to help out as much as I can with remodeling and coordinating all of the volunteers, who have been able to help fill in the gaps.

“It’s amazing the amount of people that have either committed from a volunteer standpoint or donated with labor and materials. All in all, it’s progressing real nicely.”

Largest in country

Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, Selah Freedom co-founder and chief executive officer, said the Kenosha County facility will be largest sex-trafficking safe house in the country.

She expects to visit Kenosha this summer to celebrate its grand opening and honor the many people involved in making the project a reality.

“You have no idea how excited I am,” Fisher said. “This will be the flagship home in the country.”

Selah Freedom employs a residential director to oversee all five of its safe houses. A Kenosha County coordinator will be hired to lead the local, hourly staff.

The organization operates with a mission to end sex trafficking and bring freedom to the exploited through four programs: Awareness, Prevention, Outreach and Residential. Selah is a Hebrew word which means to pause, rest and reflect.

“Cocktails for a Cause,” a fundraiser to offset renovation and operational costs, will be held May 11 at Johnny Z’s Pour House, 10936 Sheridan Road.

The event begins at 4 p.m. and features music, raffles, auctions and giveaways. One of items being raffled off is a free car, donated by Lot 31.

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