University of West Florida psychology students organized a supply drive during the spring term to help furnish Set Free Refuge, a transitional living home in south Santa Rosa County for young female victims of sex trafficking who are aging out of foster care.
The endeavor was the result of a service learning project from Professor Jane Halonen’s Positive Psychology course.
The service project was part of a lesson on positive psychology, a relatively new specialty in psychology that explores the science of what makes people happy.
“One of the principles that generates happiness is helping people, so I provide a major project option for students to conduct a service learning project with the target population of their choice,” said Halonen.
Students were required to research the scope of the problem facing their target population, conduct the service project and present a formal summary of their efforts to the class. They also had to demonstrate strong teamwork skills to manage the complexity of their chosen projects.
Five students, Renee Shomaker, Raleigh Gharbi, Mary Hunt, Savannah Burtschell and Dalia Fort-Frazee, teamed together to help Set Free Refuge.
Set Free Refuge provides young women who are aging out of foster care transitional housing for up to one year in a safe, home-like environment. Set Free Refuge can house up to three women at a time and helps stabilize and equip sex trafficking survivors so they can plan their next steps toward a normal life. It is the only home of its kind in Northwest Florida that specifically provides care to child victims who are aging out of foster care.
“Through the process of our research, we were really surprised by how common sex trafficking is and that no one really knows about it,” said Shomaker. “One thing that is sad and we really took to heart is that often families are trafficking their kids.”
Set Free Refuge executive director Marcie Rey Landreth said sex trafficking doesn’t always involve the exchange of money.
“Many of these children, who live right here in Northwest Florida, are trafficked for sex by family members in exchange for things like drugs, transportation, food or to pay …….