Meeting Kelli B from Let her Rest and the Just Cause boutique is like getting ready to ride a roller coaster. You sit down and pull your seat belt extra tight, because you know you’re about to take off. That’s Kelli… she is on a mission.
Founded with a purpose, the Just Cause Boutique, located in downtown Columbus, assists in funding Let Her Rest, a retreat space also owned by Kelli, that focuses solely on reaching ladies caught in the cycle of addiction and human trafficking.
Recently I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Kelli in her downtown shop. I reached out to Kelli with the idea of collecting interviews from women who have survived addiction and trafficking and are thriving and willing to share their story. Kelli graciously invited me to spend some time with her and some of her ladies, to which I immediately agreed.
Her fiery red hair gleamed as the early afternoon sun poured into her store. I did my best to follow behind her quickly, as she doesn’t hold still for very long. Moving from section to section of the shop, she lit candles, releasing a soothing sent throughout the rooms as she began sharing her heart for women.
Passion poured out of her like water.
A local business woman of 15 years, Kelli has always had a heart for her community and cultivating community connections.
She has always had empathy for the down and out, but it wasn’t until Kelli’s cousin was found dead in a homeless camp with a needle in her arm that Kelli’s passion for rescuing the discarded of society was jolted to life.
“I had partied when I was younger, I had done things. But I never put a needle in my body. Her death startled me deeply.”
Not knowing where to start, but knowing she’d been stirred to action by the loss of her cousin, she decided to begin with what she knew. Her grandparents had been long time residents of the west side, so Kelli felt it was the right place to begin her journey. Joining a church in the area in 2004, she expected to find outreaches already established that she could join. But what she discovered was that she didn’t come to join a movement already in play, she came to start one.
“No one was doing it so decided to start an outreach program myself. I began in the homeless camps. I loaded up my Yukon with bags of toiletries and food and anything else I could think of that someone would need.”
And so it was with simple beginnings that Kelli and her army of a few took their ministry to the streets.
It was good work. Kelli would visit the homeless and bring them aid and care. She would spend her time loving on them the best she knew how. But after some time, Kelli knew that while she was on the right path, things began to feel circular. She would reach out and reach out again, but never saw any improvement.
That is until one day that changed everything.
Walking down the train tracks after another afternoon of visiting the homeless camps with her daughter, Kelli remembers stopping on the tracks and thinking, “God, this can’t be what you mean by the great commission.”
Discouraged by the lack of impact she was seeing, she made her way back to the car.
It was there along the path that she and her daughter stumbled upon a prostitute laying in the grass.
“It was a divine moment.”
Kelli and her daughter quickly jumped to action, giving the woman water and sitting with her, easing her back into consciousness.
Driving away that night with her daughter, Kelli was wrecked. She couldn’t stop thinking about that women. After all she had come to see and experience she knew that in that one encounter she had found the forgotten.
“Even stray dogs get pet and fed out there. But not these ladies… I kept thinking over to myself, what takes a beautiful woman and leads her here?”
That was the turning point of Kelli’s focus and the birth of her pursuit of trafficked women. She turned her attention from the homeless parks to the streets. Nightly she would cruise downtown after dark, ministering to women and providing them with basic hygiene essentials. While she was seeing progress and her heart was growing for the population of women she was meeting, what she quickly learned was when she encountered these ladies they were being watched, they were working.
“I knew if I want to really reach them that i needed to get them to a safe place.”
It was then that Kelli realized that if she wanted to have real impact and the real chance to see these ladies come out of trafficking she had to establish something more permanent right there were they were where they could come in and rest.
And so, it was this revelation that led to the 2009 opening of what is today, Let Her Rest. Located downtown, Kelli has taken a space in the middle of these girls working grounds and transformed it into a place of peace and beauty. Let Her Rest allows ladies to come in off the street to do just that, rest. They can eat, freshen themselves up and spend time in the care of Kelli and the volunteers that come from time to time to help.
“When we opened up donations poured in, including six rocking chairs. God knew exactly what I needed. There were nights where girls came in so messed up that it was all I could do to sit in one of those chairs and sing over them while I rocked them like a mom rocks her baby.”
Since opening Kelli has seen victory after victory of women being won by the love experienced through this home. But She’s also seen death after death of those who couldn’t be reached. Both of these keep her going.
Today, the building that housed Let Her Rest is owned and operated by another ministry, while Let Her Rest has become the umbrella entity that overarches each of Kelli’s endeavors
pertaining to rescue, recovery, restoration, resources, relapse prevention and treatment of women.
One of the endeavors that branched off from the initial drop-in center is a detox home. Once again taking another step towards seeing women fully restored, the detox home allows ladies who make the decision they want out, to move to the detox home to begin that journey.
It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and learning, but over the years Kelli has become a resource specialist to this city’s crisis. In August she’ll become fully certified as a mental health specialist giving her for the first time access to Medicare and Medicaid programs. Resources that will greatly help her efforts in rehabilitating the women that come into her care.
Knowing that Kelli has seen and experienced so much, I asked her why she thought the city needed something like the Normandy Project.
Kelli believes that the housing and continued counseling these women will receive is a missing piece to the trafficking puzzle in Columbus.
“Take one of my girls for example, Monica. She’s been clean for 12 months, but soon her resources will run out. Most programs only last 60-90 days, so a year is already more than most get. Where does she go from there? Where does she go while she’s still building her life and getting a job? Think about a natural wound. Or recovery from surgery. It takes the body time to really fully recover. 12 months for a life of trauma is not enough.”
And that to me sums up Kelli’s heart. She’s not in it for the quick gratification of doing community service. She’s in it for the end game. Meeting several of her ladies, Kelli would gush prompting them to tell me about their personal and educational accomplishments. Where some would see hopelessness, Kelli sees generations. She sees homes and careers and families and grandchildren.
What my prayer is, is that as a society our vision would change as well. That we would no longer see lost causes or people who have “chosen” a lifestyle, but really people, with real hearts and real hopes and real potential. That we would see them for who they truly are, not a trouble, but a treasure.
To learn more about how you can support the Normandy Project, visit NormandyProject.org. To find Kelli and the Just Cause Boutique, follow the shop on Facebook and visit the store at 1357 North High St. Columbus, Oh 43203.