Hope through the storm

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

PELHAM – A bad bout of rain couldn’t stop the large crowd from participating in the Blanket Fort Hope 5k and 10k run on the early morning of Sept. 18. Buckets of water showered down across Oak Mountain State Park, where the run took place, but so many people still came out to support the organizations fundraiser run against child sex trafficking.

“We had about 20 percent more people this year, and we had 135 show up, which is awesome,” said Alexa Likis James, the CEO of Blanket Fort Hope. “This is our third year, and we’re thrilled that people came to run in the rain.”

The event was delayed until around 8:30 a.m., with joggers crossing the finish line throughout the next few hours. After the run, James oversaw the prize giveaways to different runners. There were approximately 25 gifts, according to James, ranging from a $300 purse, gifts from Kendra Scott, gift cards and other fun items.

At the end of the day, the run exceeded the organization’s goal of $20,000, which will go toward the continued process of building Blanket Fort Hope’s restoration home for victims of child sex trafficking.

“The property was purchased in July, and it is now paid for,” James said. “We were very surprised. We planned on paying it off by December, and somebody donated the money so it got paid off like two weeks later. We’ve already started working with the architect, we have part of the land cleared off, we’ve got two engineers we’re working with, and we think the building process will probably start in the spring.”

The run serves as a great way to spread the word about Blanket Fort Hope, which in turn provides more funding and education to the public about how they too can help child trafficking survivors. James said it’s events like the run that help them continue to do their work.

“[The run] will also continue to help us support Blanket Fort Hope,” said James, “and continue building for our mission and vision. Without these events, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

James has been in the anti-trafficking world for 12 years now, and she started Blanket Fort Hope when she saw there was a desperate need for an organization dedicated specifically to helping children.

“There’s no one else in the state of Alabama that specifically works with child victims of trafficking or child survivors,” she said. “They have group homes that have everyone in there, but not specifically just kids. We’re the only one.”

“We know at any given time there’s 10,000 victims [of trafficking] and of those 10,000 victims, 5700 of those are children,” James explained. “We’re here to help change that scenario to what that looks like. We want to bring hope to the community, teach people and educate people, we’ve educated over 6,000 people in churches, schools, professional settings so they know what to look for.”

Providing safe and reliable housing is Blanket Fort Hope’s ultimate mission. Their restoration project will provide a safe place for child trafficking victims to stay while recovering from their traumatic experience.

“We’re going to start with the restoration housing, and that’s going to be 90 to 120 days, then we’ll move them to our therapeutic housing on the property where we can place these kids ourselves so when they get out they will have a home to go to,” James explained. “We’re going to have transitional living, a little farm with vegetables and horses and we’re going to have therapy dogs as well.”

When asked how she felt regarding the big turnout at the run, James fought back tears.

“I don’t think there are any words to express my gratitude to the people who showed up today,” she said. “This mission, we have been working so hard for six years to get us to where we are now, and just for people to understand the influence of these children.”

“I look at my grandson and all of these children here today, and what would I do for my own children? So, that’s what we have modeled this after, how would I want my own children to live? I want them to have everything my children have. I want them to go to college, and be whole and healthy,” James continued.

“When people come to events like this and learn about this, it’s one more person that can help keep a child out of [trafficking],” she said. “It’s one more person who can help educate others.”

For more information on Blanket Fort Hope, visit their website blanketforthope.org