The cement foundation has been poured, the wooden frame built, windows set and the carpet lain. Jeff Wilbarger’s dream has become a reality. The Daughter Project is putting the finishing touches on the home it has been building for women rescued from sex trafficking.
Awareness of sex trafficking has been promoted by numerous anti-trafficking groups throughout the country and even in the blockbuster film “Taken” starring Liam Neeson. However, many in Wood County and the neighboring counties are unaware that trafficking is taking place in their area.
“John Kasich signed an executive order creating a 90-day task force to develop a coordinated game plan for attacking modern-day slavery in Ohio,” reported Jim Provance, Columbus Bureau chief, in an article for The Toledo Blade published March 30.
The “slavery” Provance refers to is sex-trafficking, and in this category Toledo ranks third in the nation.
When Wilbarger, a math and physics instructor in Bowling Green, first read about this “modern-day slavery” taking place all throughout the world, he felt compelled to help women unfortunately put in this position. What Wilbarger did not know initially was that Toledo marked a major hub for sex trafficking, due in large part to the intersection of two major highways: Interstate 75 and Interstate 80.
“About three years ago I began to sense that God wanted me to do something more with my life,” Wilbarger said. “This was not ‘midlife’ crisis or simply a time for a career or life change. I was very content with my life, my family and my career. Rather, this sense of calling was to continue in my career but to also step up and do something more.”
During this time his son-in-law gave him the book, “Not for Sale” by David Batstone, which documented the stories of the lives of people who had been trafficked for labor or sex, both internationally and domestically, Wilbarger said.
“I only read the first two chapters because the reality of the stories was too intense for me and that was all I needed for motivation,” he said.
His response to this motivation in his life was to create a home for women rescued from sex trafficking.
The home will house six women at a time. There will be house moms who will prepare meals for the women and mentors.
What makes The Daughter Project different from other organizations is that the mentors in the home will teach the women the Gospel of Christ.
Many people have become involved with the mission of the Daughter Project throughout this past year, joining committees and giving time and energy to help the cause.
Megan Metzger joined the spiritual mentorship committee, which is in charge of interviewing the house moms and mentors that will be staying with the rescued women in the house.
“It will be a Christian home that the girls can receive counseling in,” Metzger said. “We want them to go out and live normal lives, have good marriages and build good families.”
Metzger said that the response to the home has not been all positive.
“Some people in the community were not happy about the home being built,” Metzger said. “They didn’t understand the purpose of it and were afraid that pimps were going to come to their community looking for the girls.”
Metzger said a lot of this negative reaction has died down since a year ago.
“The FBI told us that we would have no problem filling the house,” Metzger said, in relation to how rampant sex trafficking is in Toledo.
Metzger spoke of how the build process has been going as of late.
“Basically, they are just finishing up putting appliances in,” Metzger said. “We hope to be up and running this summer.”
Metzger mentioned that the contents of the house, from rugs and bedsheets to wood and concrete has been fueled by donations.
Chelsea Groenewegen, a University alumna and staff member with H2O Church on campus, recently hosted a shower for the Daughter Project home.
“I have friends involved with The Daughter Project,” Groenewegen said. “It really disturbed me what these girls go through.”
Guests at the shower brought appliances, lamps, pillows, gift cards and anything that would create more of a home feel for the interior of the rescue house.
“Being a woman and seeing girls trapped breaks my heart,” Groenewegen said. “I wanted to shower them with blessings so the home looks beautiful. Even contributing a lamp to The Daughter Project is awesome.”