Columbus, OH – “Honey, are you hungry?” These words are often heard by a teenage girl on the streets of Columbus, OH. She is dirty and hungry, and despite the fact that she will be with as many as 10 men today, she is alone and unloved. But to Sister Nadine Buchanan, OP, this girl is an angel in disguise – and those simple words open a door to hope and love.
Sr. Nadine began her mission to the victims of human trafficking in Columbus, OH in 2009. It was a way to, as she says, “put flesh” to one of her Congregation’s commitments: to promote justice for the marginalized, especially women and children. Over eight years, her ministry has moved from cooking meals with and for survivors, to the courtroom to help those in recovery, to the streets. Today, she works with women who are still in the grip of a life of sexual slavery.
“I started this part of my work with human trafficking about two years ago, when I offered to help my friend and mentor, April Thacker,” Sr. Nadine says. “April was trafficked for 15 years, and now works to help others survive and leave that life. She was taking food and personal items to women on the street during the holiday season. From the very first time I went out with April, I was taken by the sadness and suffering on their faces – and now, I can’t do enough for these women.”
Sr. Nadine has grown her street ministry from holiday visits to several trips a week to the lower west side of Columbus. Driving slowly past boarded up storefronts and homes she calls out to the women that she meets, “Are you hungry, honey?” Once the conversation has started, Sr. Nadine opens her trunk to offer coats, clothing, blankets and hygiene items, accompanied by a caring smile and a warm hug.
She returns to the Congregation’s Motherhouse with an empty car and a dogged determination to go out again. “My heart is heavy with what my eyes have seen. It keeps me close to God because I need His grace and the prayers of my Sisters and friends to continue this ministry. It’s not easy – this work draws me out of my comfort zone. But these young ladies need to know someone cares and has compassion for them. In the name of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, this ministry brings that to them.”
“These girls have nothing,” Sr. Nadine continues. “No food, no home, no fresh clothes– not one person that they can trust. I just want to sow hope and trust – to be a friendly face that they can count on, and the person that they can always believe.”
Sr. Nadine’s ministry began in a therapeutic justice program in Franklin County, OH. CATCH Court, which stands for Changing Actions To Change Habits, was founded by the Honorable Judge Paul Herbert. CATCH Court is a treatment-oriented, non-adversarial program for re-arrested prostitutes who are victims of human trafficking. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and drug addiction. The program helps them to escape the sex trade and heal the emotional scars left behind.
Sr. Nadine is often the first face a woman sees when she enters the CATCH Court program, since she is one of several volunteers who pick up women at Franklin County Jail. She drives the woman to a rehabilitation center or supervised housing; each woman will also attend weekly sessions of CATCH Court, where Sr. Nadine sits in to provide support. During her transport, Sr. Nadine gives each woman clean clothes, a meal, and a bag of personal items to help her start her new life.
“They are so touched by this act of kindness… it’s something they don’t experience very often! I’ve made it my mission to make them feel welcome and comfortable during the time they are with me. They open up and ask me if they can tell me their story – which is very liberating for them,” Sr. Nadine says.
More than 70% of the women who complete the CATCH program do not offend again. One reason for that success is the opportunity for meaningful work after graduating from CATCH. Freedom A la Carte is a Columbus catering firm that provides supportive services and dignified jobs to survivors of human trafficking. Sr. Nadine volunteers at Freedom Ala Carte, where she acts as an extra pair of hands and offers support and love to these women who need it desperately.
Sr. Nadine’s ministry is unique because of its depth – she serves women at every stage of the trafficking cycle, from the streets to survivor. Because of this, she sees the true breadth of the human trafficking crisis in Columbus.
“There are so many homeless and trafficked young ladies out there – I rarely see the same once twice. I can’t help but feel compassion and love for them. They ARE God’s precious ones, and they are precious to me,” Sr. Nadine says. “These young ladies help me find God’s strength, and give me courage to keep going out to help them.”
“These young ladies are very grateful for everything they receive – and I am so grateful to God and to my Congregation for allowing me to work in a Ministry that promotes justice for the marginalized, helps change oppressive systems, and creates a place of welcome and love.”
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