- That’s the average age of entry into prostitution. It’s an uncomfortable and heartbreaking truth but one that Seattle’s The Genesis Project knows all too well. Founded in 2011 by Andy Connor, a deputy with the King County sheriff’s office, The Genesis Project is a faith-based nonprofit community of local staff, volunteers, law enforcement officers, state legislators, churches, community groups and international partner organizations that help rescue, restore and release girls from a life of sex trafficking.
As a deputy patrolling the streets of Seattle, Connor realized that his options to help these women were limited—he could ignore them, arrest them or take them to a non-criminal youth facility, yet none of these options provided real, lasting help for these girls.
In seven years, Connor’s idea for a forth option—now The Genesis Project—has grown into a fully functioning organization that serves not just the immediate needs of the girls—shelter, food and safety—but also education, rehabilitation and, most importantly, love and kindness, something many of these women have never had.
It takes a special person to volunteer for The Genesis Project. That person must be loving, non-judgmental, patient and a good listener. When we asked volunteer director, Jodi Wheat, to share a volunteer she admired for National Volunteer Week, she said she had so many, but one of her volunteers really stood out—Marlee Dubnow.
Marlee is one of those humble volunteers who is willing to help with anything needed – whether it’s taking out the garbage or helping with a fundraiser. She expresses love and acceptance to the clients, hugging and kissing them on the cheek as they leave the center. Marlee believes in the mission of The Genesis Project to help women out of commercial sexual exploitation. Love is at the core of what these women need, and she shows them unconditional love without reservation.
Marlee has made volunteering at The Genesis Project her priority, as shown by her consistent presence and willingness to help with anything. In January, Marlee took charge of assembling baskets with donated items to be auctioned at our annual fundraiser, and every basket was purchased!
Clients often say that they feel so much love when they come to the center, and Marlee plays a big role in that. She’ll spend the night with clients at the emergency shelter, making sure their immediate needs are taken care of in a spirit of generosity and love.
Once, a client visited the drop-in center for a few hours before flying out of state. Marlee made a special effort to hug her, kiss her on the cheek and let her know she would be praying for her. Marlee asked her to let everyone know how she was doing as well. It was a special moment to watch, and really showed everyone how wonderful a person Marlee is.
In honor of National Volunteer Week, VolunteerMark wanted to highlight our clients and their amazing volunteers. We can learn so much from others’ acts of kindness, and the following interview with volunteer Marlee Dubnow clearly highlights those traits we all strive for in becoming a better human.
- Why did you join The Genesis Project?
I have been volunteering with The Genesis Project for a year and a half. For several years I was interested in ways I could help girls who were victims of sex trafficking but had no idea how to go about it. I thought sex trafficking was all about girls (and boys) being kidnapped and sent overseas. Little did I know it was happening in my own backyard. Then two years ago I found out about The Genesis Project, a local resource center for young women who wanted to escape prostitution. The fact that it’s close to my home and faith-based was a deciding factor for me to become involved.
- Why do you stay?
I stay because I have a heart for girls/women who have been abused and oppressed and who, more often than not, have been forced into a life not of their choosing, i.e. prostitution. And The Genesis Project offers a safe, nonjudgmental loving atmosphere to everyone who walks through their doors, whether they be a client or a volunteer.
- What is your favorite part about your volunteer work? Where do you find the greatest joy?
My favorite part is when I have opportunities to work directly with the clients. I love helping them with whatever they might need, whether it’s assisting them in finding something clean to wear from our stock of donated items or listening to them talk about their lives. I find it particularly rewarding when I can pray with the girls, which is always an encouragement to them as they come to know there is Someone beyond themselves who cares about them and sees them as beautiful and worthy of love.
4. Do you have a favorite story or favorite memory about your volunteer work that you’d like to share?
This is just one of several favorite stories. GP likes to celebrate special events in our clients’ lives. One particular client mentioned she never had a birthday party in her life so we threw her one. We showered her with gifts then took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner. During dinner she told us that when she first came into the center a couple months earlier, with her then two- week-old baby boy, she was shocked at how loving and kind we were to her and how she felt no judgement at all for who she was. She said we were like the family she never had. This was not the first time a client has told us this, but every time I hear this it makes me realize the power of genuine unconditional love and what privilege it is to be part of sharing that love with these beautiful young women. This humbles me to the core.
- Many people want to volunteer but say they don’t have time. How do you make time in your life to volunteer?
I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I do not need to work, so I think this makes it easier for me to volunteer. But even if a person has just one hour a week or month, it can make a difference. Some volunteers bring meals to the center once a month for the staff and clients. Some come on Saturdays to pray for the girls. Others volunteer a once or twice a year for the fundraising events. I do not think it is always a matter of how much time you give as much as why you give of your time.
- What skills have you learned from volunteering with The Genesis Project?
Well, this has been a learning experience for sure. The population we serve is difficult due to the fact there is no simple short cut to healing the broken lives they have lived.
There are multiple layers of brokenness to their lives such as delayed and immature social skills, drugs and post traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, I learn how to listen and observe more carefully to what they are saying and doing and ask the right kinds of questions that might encourage them to share their thoughts without making them feel judged or attacked. I’m also learning the skill of when to offer suggestions for a problem they may be facing or when to just listen with an empathetic ear followed by a big, loving hug.
Marlee’s Key Takeaways:
- Listen more and talk less.
- Ask the right kinds of questions based on personal interactions and observations.
- Know when to offer advice and when to offer a hug.
- Even one hour of volunteering a week can make a significant impact.
- When deciding on where to give your time or money, consider looking in your community first. Chances are, there will be plenty of opportunities that fit you.
In Seattle and interested in learning more about or volunteering for The Genesis Project? Contact them here.