A major donation to the Blazing Hope Ranch has accelerated the nonprofit's goal of providing counseling and rehabilitative services to survivors of human trafficking.
David Haggard, the head of Blazing Hope, said the organization recently received two refurbished four-bedroom modular homes that will be able to house survivors by the beginning of the new year, as well as a lodge to house activities, classes and counseling in the future.
The donation came from Eric Hamilton, the president of Vanderbilt Lending and Mortgage in Maryville, Tenn.
"This would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-create what we've been given," said Haggard.
Hamilton said he wasn't aware of the prevalence of human trafficking in Tennessee until he received a letter from Haggard and decided to visit him and the ranch, located north of Sale Creek.
"I became very alarmed by the problem they're trying to help with," said Hamilton. "When I met with David, I saw his passion and mission and just got a good feeling about him as an individual. This seemed like something they were really committed to, and for all those reasons, we wanted to support them."
Haggard said he has sent letters to countless organizations and businesses explaining how the nonprofit helps victims of human trafficking and asking the organization to sell Blazing Hope a building at a drastically reduced cost, so he could establish an office space to grow his outreach.
"Most of the time you don't get much response," Haggard said, "but Eric contacted me back, which was an amazing blessing."
One home has already been delivered and the others will be sent once Blazing Hope finishes preparing the land for the buildings. The homes were previously used by Clayton Homes, the company that owns Vanderbilt Mortgage, to house new employees who'd moved from out of state.
The importance of the ranch can't be understated, Haggard said. The damage of human and sex trafficking right here in Hamilton County is staggering.
"Tennessee is just as likely as anywhere to have victims," he said. "From a physical standpoint, Chattanooga is in the corridor of one of the worst spots in the country for it. We're near Atlanta and right between Nashville and Knoxville. It's a prime target area.
"In Tennessee alone, there's a need for at least 200 more beds for survivors. These homes are an opportunity for us to provide spaces that are needed," added Haggard, referencing Hamilton's donation.
Since Blazing Hope began in early 2016, the nonprofit has paid for counseling services for a multitude of survivors, Haggard said. One woman was even gifted a car to enable her with the freedom of mobility, he said.
"To quantify success is very difficult," said Haggard. "We've seen progress, but the trauma that these women have incurred is long term and severe. Step by step, you just try to help ensure they're better tomorrow than they were today."
The end goal at the ranch is to create equestrian therapy opportunities for survivors. Working with horses has had proven benefits for all kinds of groups, Haggard said; from children with cerebral palsy to victims of drug addiction to people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"In shelters, a bed and roof over their head are sometimes not enough to help survivors work through the healing process," he said.
To donate or learn more about Blazing Hope Ranch, visit blazinghoperanch.org.
Email Shane Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org.