Young women moving into Covenant House’s new transitional housing program for survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation will find a special welcome. Brightly coloured, hand-made quilts will cover their beds thanks to students at Havergal College, a private downtown girls’ school, who have taken up the cause of supporting the new residents.
“They were made with love,” says eighteen-year-old Julia Mateus, a recent Havergal graduate who led the donations’ drive. Along with the quilts, the students collected toiletries that they packaged in gift baskets for the seven residents of The Rogers Home.
It may seem these young women’s lives are worlds apart. But Julia has come to learn those worlds can collide.
Her mother, Paula Courtney, is a member of Covenant House’s $10-million fundraising campaign that will support the agency’s anti-trafficking plans, including the new house.
The innovative program will provide survivors with stable housing for two years and wraparound services, including life skills, educational and vocational assistance and trauma and addiction counselling to enable them to move to independence.
The campaign theme, “Just Like a Girl You Know,” resonated with Julia. She says she wanted to get involved along with mom and so arrangements were made for the students to participate in a Covenant House presentation on trafficking at an assembly.
“That opened our eyes completely to the possibility that it could be any of us.”
While homeless youth are at high risk of traffickers, unsuspecting girls and young women are being lured from malls, school yards and online. The 64 young women Covenant House supported last year came from a range of backgrounds.
Julia took the lead in involving her fellow students in an effort to help their peers as they set about reclaiming their lives.
“These girls are on a new course, moving into a new house and we wanted to help them to feel at home. We wanted to give them gifts from girls their age who are thinking about them,” Julia says.
With a drive for toiletries underway, teaching staff also became involved with the idea to support trafficking survivors. The cause, Julia says, was clearly in line with the school’s values of “woman power and girls helping girls.”
Julia and Art Department Head, Dr. Miriam Davidson agreed that the school’s annual Grade 9 quilting project would be an ideal way to provide personalized welcome gifts for the resident as they moved into their new home.
Dr. Miriam Davidson, who heads the art department, has her Grade 9 students work on an annual project to learn the time honoured skill of quilting from creating designs to mastering the intricate stitching to finish their quilts. These are usually auctioned at the school.
But Dr. Davidson saw the chance to give the annual Grade 9 quilting assignment a more tangible goal. Her 46 students teamed up to produced their quilts for young residents of The Rogers Home.
Knowing that each quilt was going to a “real person,” Dr. Davidson says, her novice quilters design each one with individual colour schemes and patterns.
“They saw something they were doing together could help change a girl’s girl,” Dr. Davidson says. “I think the quilts are more beautiful this year. More effort went into them because the students knew they were for girls who had had a bad time in their life and were now going forward.”
Dr. Davidson says she hopes to continue to make more quilts and that the residents will take them with them when they leave the program.