Living in Liberty was founded in 2012 by Elizabeth Echevarria to restore dignity, freedom, and a new life to victims of commercial sexual exploitation by creating a safe, secure, loving, and nurturing community where healing occurs and a new life begins.
Elizabeth is an amazing warrior with a servant’s heart. She became interested in the issue of sex trafficking over a decade ago when she lived in the D.C. metro area. As a women’s ministry leader in her church, she was looking for a retreat speaker without much success. Someone shared a story about a ministry in India started by Beth Grant, Project Rescue where they helped children out of brothels while their mothers were working. Children were often in the rooms where their mothers are providing services. This organization came in and provided childcare, keeping the children from being exposed to what was going on. Through this program, the leaders were able to reach out to the trafficked women to create a plan of exit from the industry. Elizabeth had a strong desire to serve but knew her husband would not be on board to move to India. She began researching locally and realized that it was happening here in the United States, and set out to learn more about the issues.
Elizabeth’s husband’s job relocated them to Pittsburgh. After arriving here she prayed for an entire year to be led to serve in this area. She became painfully aware there were not any aftercare services for victims specifically for sex trafficking. While attending ministry school she again discovered there was a need for care services for these women. She immediately set out to create relationships within the local community and friended a local trusted pastor. His church was used as a safe place to engage with the women. Elizabeth started with a staff of 13 volunteers walking the streets of Homewood approaching women, passing out cards offering a safe place to eat, shower, rest. Her staff quickly dwindled to 2 people. However, Elizabeth never lost sight of her mission and she continued on a prayerful journey. She formed meaningful Christian relationships all over the country with others leaders involved in rehabilitating victims who inspired and motivated her to keep going.
Elizabeth took the next step to create Living in Liberty by purchasing a property to use as a safe home. The purpose is to house women to restore their freedom and independence. The program offers one year to 18-month program. They house up to four women, over the age of 18, which is intentionally small. The women are provided with counseling, health care, medical, life skills and job skills. If the girls are trafficked at the ages of 12 to 14, it is likely that they haven’t finished school and possess a very low skill set. The girls are told and don’t feel like they can do anything else because it’s all that they know.
In the first phase of their stay, all of their physical needs are met, such as clothes and all those necessities they never had. This phase primarily focusing on them feeling secure. In the second phase, they start dreaming about what they want to do. For each one, it’s different—some want to finish their GEDs, some want to go to college. The third and final phase, an action plan is put into place to help make that dream a reality. During the phases, they are developing life skills to make the transition.
Living in Liberty operates a thrift store in the Pittsburgh area. Repurposed for the Thrifty Shopper in You, is located on McKnight Rd. and boasts two stories of gently used housewares, furniture, books, clothing, and more; this store also hosts the Sozo Boutique & cafe, a fair trade shop filled with items made by survivors of trafficking worldwide.
The repurposed store provide critical, financial support to sustain the rest of the work as an organization. It also serve as a platform for raising awareness about human trafficking globally and in Pittsburgh and seek to educate shoppers about the reality of trafficking.
Donations to the store may also be distributed by the street outreach team, or may help to provide the safe home residents with necessities when they come to live with in the house or are ready to be established on their own.
Safe home residents also have the opportunity to gain valuable job skills and professional training by working at the stores during their time with in the house, and may continue to find employment at one of the Repurposed stores after they complete their program at the home.
Volunteering at the store may be a weekly or monthly commitment, or may be a one-time group volunteer opportunity. It’s an excellent way to become involved and support this mission.
Living in Liberty has street outreach teams that work in five neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area: Homewood, North Side, South Side, McKeesport, and Butler. Volunteer teams make weekly visits to the same neighborhoods, spending time prayer-walking the streets and visiting with women we know and with new acquaintances. These teams endeavor to create authentic, trusting relationships in order to serve the women we support through: prayer, counsel, locating and securing essential resources, and providing other miscellaneous assistance as we are able.
Teams provide hot meals, donations, and other services at weekly, women-only care centers. Volunteers help to serve meals, facilitate a welcoming environment for the women who come in off the streets, pass out donated clothing or hygiene products, and converse or pray with women as seems fit.
The street outreach team is committed to a faithful ministry of presence in order to build trust and authentic relationships with the women they serve. If you’d like to get involved please visit www.livinginliberty.org