”When I was 12 or 13 I was awakened to the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery. It ripped my heart apart. Life went on. I had an illness where I couldn’t go to high school anymore. That gave me a chance to do more of what I want to do. I went to pastry school and my plan was to open a bakery. Every time I told someone about it, I would hear God say ‘No you aren’t.’ I put together Little Tree Project and started selling baked goods. But that didn’t work because of my health. I couldn’t stand for long periods of time and bake. I have a condition called RSD, a rare disorder of the sympathetic nervous system with chronic, severe pain. It is degenerative and similar to Parkinson’s and MS. It messes with your circulatory system as well. Sometimes I will pass out, so I really have to be careful. I have had it since 2010, but it took me a while to get a diagnosis. I am always in pain, but I am better able to cope with it. I have gone to Baltimore for experimental treatments, but it is not curable and there is no medical treatment. I get weak fast, but if I take good care of myself, stay active and eat right, I can keep up with this. I used to run several miles a day. Now I can barely do yoga. It is hard not to get depressed. I almost died when I was 15, so I know I am here for a purpose. It made me mature more quickly and I learned not to sweat the small stuff. I left the school I had been in since kindergarten for homeschooling. I felt ostracized and lost some of my friends because they didn’t know what to say. It is an invisible condition and I used to hide it. I was scared it would become my identity and I would be labeled the sick girl. I learned there is strength in vulnerability. You can let people know of the struggle you are going through and handle it with God’s grace.
During all of this, someone close to me was drugged and raped. I was so angry over what she went through and it became harder to trust men. Seeing her journey helped me understand the women I want to help. Since I can no longer bake, Little Tree Project became an online boutique. I search for ethnically made goods from organizations that provide support and empowerment for survivors. One of the product lines is Prodigal Pottery from Shelby County, Alabama that works with abused and homeless women. Proceeds from each product go to support not only our suppliers, but also A21, a global anti-human trafficking organization, and Eye Heart World, an anti-sex trafficking organization local to South Alabama and Wisconsin, and The Little Tree Project, LLC. I believe in being faithful in the little things and God will give you the much. I had a difficult surgery last year. There were complications and my body started rejecting things. I missed a large part of the year. I considered quitting Little Tree but remembered all of the people I want to help and stuck to it. If I quit now, I can’t help the one woman or girl who may need me. I have been hopeless before. These women give me hope to hold on.
My parents are amazing and support me 100 percent. They believe in the mission and believe in me. Because of my disease, I can’t have a regular job to support myself. If I didn’t have the parents I have, I could be one of the vulnerable women on the streets doing what I have to do to survive. I dream that Little Tree grows into a successful business that employs survivors of trafficking. The bigger dream is for Little Tree to support a long term safe home to give victims a place to heal and start a new life. My purpose is to help other women find their purpose and freedom. The more I strive to help them, the more I find my own strength and who I am.”