Thistle Farms is a sanctuary for healing for women survivors of abuse, addiction, trafficking and prostitution. We are a community of survivors, advocates, employees, interns, volunteers, and friends from all across the world. We are young and old, women and men. We want to change a culture that still allows human beings to be bought and sold. We believe that in the end, Love is the strongest force for change in the world.
The Rev. Becca Stevens founded Thistle Farms, under the name Magdalene, in 1997 to serve women who have survived prostitution, addiction, and trafficking on the streets, under bridges, and/or within prison walls.The organization now employs over 50 survivors and serves up to 700 women yearly between residential and advocacy services. Magdalene on the Inside is part of the Residential Program, providing recovery services to six women inside Tennessee Prison for Women.
Thistle Farms has consistently scaled its organizational capacity to meet the needs of its residents, graduates, and women locally and nationally. In 2001, Thistle Farms began its first social enterprise, manufacturing and selling natural bath and body products. The social enterprise has grown its branches of employment to now include Thistle Stop Café, the Studios, and Thistle Farms Global. Thistle Farms has also created its National Education and Outreach Initiative in response to a national desire to learn from Thistle Farms’ best practice model of recovery.
Taking into account benefits such as incarceration and arrest savings, sales tax contribution from employees, and disability and child protective services savings, Thistle Farms saves Nashville over $750,000 each year. Thistle Farms takes no government funding and is supported solely through private gifts, grants, and proceeds from Thistle Farms.
It has been an honor and a privilege to be associated with Thistle Farms for over 15 years, initially as a volunteer and supporter and for the past 5 years as a Board member and now Chair of the Board. One of the most meaningful aspects of being involved with Thistle Farms is the opportunity to be in relationship with the residents and graduates and particularly to witness the amazing transformation that occurs as the women are nurtured, supported and loved through their two years in the program. I have literally not recognized some of the women after even one year in the program compared to when they first walked through the door. The transformation after two years is nothing short of miraculous.
At Thistle Farms, it seems that our successes and challenges are inter-related to some degree. A success we celebrated recently at Thistle Farms was the graduation of nine women, each of whom stayed sober/clean the entire two years they were in the program, were employed in good jobs and had been able to find housing. The challenge associated with this success is for the women to keep their jobs and housing and to meet other unexpected needs as they leave the highly supportive environment of the two-year residential program to be on their own. One of the biggest challenges we face is supporting our graduates for years to come after they graduate from the program. We have plans to have a person dedicated to this effort.
Another success is selling over $2,000,000 in products in the past year. We were able to do that through the great work of our manufacturing and shipping teams, as well as our marketing teams and the women who travel with President and Founder Becca Stevens to share the mission of Thistle Farms. The related challenge is needing to expand the space for our manufacturing and shipping teams in order to continue to grow our sales. So, our current challenge is securing funding and finding a larger space for our manufacturing and shipping teams.
For a few years now, we have offered education sessions on a bi-monthly basis to individuals and organizations that are interested in starting programs like our residential program and/or our social enterprise. The challenge for us is again one of space. Assuming we can find new space for manufacturing and shipping, we intend to renovate existing space to include an education session that will allow us to invite even more people and organizations to come learn from our experiences.
We are celebrating finding an excellent Chief Executive for Thistle Farms, Hal Cato. Hal’s years of non-profit and business experience are invaluable to our organization as we grow. Some of the challenges on Hal’s plate that we on the board take an interest in are: increasing employees’ hours so they can earn a true living wage, increasing the level of professionalism in the workplace while balancing the unique needs and concerns of the residents and graduates who work at Thistle Farms, and finding companies to partner with so more of our residents and graduates can find good jobs.
Founded in 1997 under the name Magdalene, Thistle Farms Residential Program operates as a two-year, rent-free recovery community for women survivors of prostitution, addiction, and trafficking. The Residential Program offers housing, medical care, therapy, education, and job training to residents, without charge. Magdalene on the Inside is an extension of the Residential Program that provides recovery services to six inmates in the Tennessee Prison for Women. Each of the Residential Program’s five residences functions without live-in staff, instead relying on residents to create a supportive community. Upon completion of the Residential Program, residents have the option of participating in the Transitional Living Program for an additional 12 months until gaining economic independence.
Residents of Thistle Farms range in age from 18-50 years old. On average, residents and graduates first experienced sexual abuse between the ages of 7-11, first used drugs and/or alcohol at age 13, and first entered prostitution between the ages of 14-16. 100% of residents have experienced rape and/or sexual assault.
Thistle Farms Residential Program graduate Shelia Simpkins McClain was first molested at the age of 6; the child abuse continued for approximately 5 or 6 years. At the age of 14, Shelia ran away from home and started using drugs. By the time she was 18, she had turned to prostitution to support her habit and was subsequently in and out of jail.
In 2001, Thistle Farms began its first social enterprise to employ residents and graduates of its Residential Program. Thistle Farms Social Enterprises has grown to include a natural bath and body care product line, the Thistle Stop Café, the Studios, and Thistle Farms Global. In 2009, Thistle Farms created a National Education & Outreach Initiative to empower individuals and organizations seeking to do similar work.
Following a period of continuous recovery in the Residential Program, residents have the opportunity to participate in a six-month vocational training program at the Social Enterprises. Residents build resumes, learn leadership and communication skills, and gain experience in manufacturing, sales, shipping, restaurant service, and administration. These women complete the program with the intention of gaining permanent employment at Thistle Farms or an outside organization. Thistle Farms currently employs 45+ residents and graduates.
Thistle Farms Social Enterprises use the following tools and documents to track and evaluate individual and overall program success:
Chelle began experimenting with drugs and alcohol in high school to fit in with the "in crowd," consequently leading to addiction. As the addiction progressed, Chelle found herself living on the streets for 14 years, from the ages of 21-35. Ready for a new start, Chelle entered Magdalene in 2003 and graduated two years later, working in various capacities, even owning her own business in subsequent years. Chelle is now working at Thistle Farms as the Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to the Managing Director of Thistle Farms. Chelle lives independently in her own apartment and is parenting 3 wonderful children.
Thistle Farms Global was created to support women survivors of addiction, trafficking, violence, and poverty around the world through a Shared Trade marketplace. Shared Trade increases the share of profit margins for women in a variety of trades, offering women a space to experience economic opportunity and healing community. As Thistle Farms’ founder Becca Stevens says, “We are acting globally so women experience freedom locally.”
Thistle Stop Café is a local café built by the community, for the community. Thistle Farms opened the Café in 2013, creating a home to anyone who walks through the doors, whether for a cup of coffee or to join a movement. The Café features a wide variety of breakfast and lunch foods as well as specialty drinks. At the Café, residents and graduates learn culinary skills and gain experience in customer service that are applicable to a wide variety of jobs outside of Thistle Farms.
In 2009, Thistle Farms began its National Education & Outreach Initiative to meet demand from organizations around the nation hoping to replicate Thistle Farms’ best practice model. The Initiative now offers free consultation and comprehensive education workshops to individuals and organizations who contact and/or visit Thistle Farms. To date, Thistle Farms has welcomed 2,500+ individuals from 40 different states through either workshops or national conferences.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be a Thistle Farmer.
Hal Cato joined Thistle Farms as its first CEO in October 2015. Prior to that, he was founder and CEO of Zeumo, Inc, a healthcare technology company he created in 2012 and sold to The Advisory Board Company three years later. From 2001 – 2011, Hal was CEO of Oasis Center, where he raised over $17m, grew the organization more than 500%, and received numerous regional and national awards, including the 2011 “Best in Business" award for nonprofit organizations by the Nashville Business Journal and the national “Agency of the Year" by the National Network for Youth. In 2010, the editors of the Nashville Scene named Hal “Nashvillian of the Year."
Holli started with Thistle Farms in 2001, bringing 10 years experience from the music business in management and in retail sales and marketing.
Jim started with Thistle Farms in 2010, bringing 20 years of experience as a certified food and beverage executive in convention hotels plus 7 years as VP of Business Development in food manufacturing/sales.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
For every $1 spent on addiction treatment, $12 are saved on future social, medical and criminal justice costs. Yet addiction recovery services for low-income and uninsured people are provided primarily by nonprofit treatment centers dependent on funding through competitive grants, private donations and modest payment by patients. These centers are always busy, and patient waiting lists are long.
With global competition, technological changes and the growth of knowledge- and service-based economies, even entry-level jobs require more advanced skills than they did several decades ago. There is great demand for workers with education, skills training or both, but jobs that require only a high school diploma are disappearing, or the wages they pay are dropping. Schools offer limited vocational training, and graduates often lack the practical job skills employers need.
Human trafficking has long been an international concern, but did you know that trafficking could be happening in your own neighborhood? News features on this topic often concentrate on women and children in third world countries who have been forced into the sex trade industry involuntarily, but this industry has evolved into one of the most lucrative businesses worldwide. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, human sex trafficking is "the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world." What you may not know is that human trafficking is growing in the United States and takes place right here in Middle Tennessee.
The dramatic achievements of public health in the 20th century have improved our quality of life in a myriad of ways, including an increase in life expectancy, worldwide reduction of infant and child mortality rates, and the elimination or reduction of many communicable diseases. In Middle Tennessee, improvements in preventive medicine and advanced medical technology have resulted in increased life expectancy and improved health for many residents. However, significant health disparities exist in our region, resulting in poor health status often related to economic status, race, and/or gender.
In Tennessee, gang presence has been on the rise since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when gangs first made a concerted push into the state. Since 2011, police have identified at least 5,000 gang members in Davidson County, and gang-related crimes have increased by 25%. Meanwhile, cities with 50,000 or fewer inhabitants have seen gang-related crimes triple in frequency nationally since 2005.
Copyright © 2014 The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
3833 Cleghorn Avenue, Nashville, TN 37215