This Hero Opened a Home to Help Women That Have Been Sex Trafficked

A random chat on an airplane led to a life-changing idea.

Katherine Lee (left), Susan Kovaka, and resident therapy dog Hope on the steps of Hope Home.Buff Strickland for Reader's Digest
Katherine Lee (left), Susan Kovaka, and resident therapy dog Hope on the steps of Hope Home.

If you don’t want anyone to talk to you on a plane, hold a Bible in your lap. That’s a trick Kathrine Lee uses to get some quiet time between seminars and speaking engagements in her career as a life coach and business strategist. But it didn’t work the day a handsome man sat next to her and started chatting. He was ­charming, and before long, Kathrine, a married mother of three, was wondering which of her single girlfriends she’d set him up with. Then she asked him, “So what do you do?”

He owned a pornography company, he told her. He thought it would be funny to get the church lady to like him, then tell her what he did for a living and watch her squirm. Instead, Kathrine started asking him questions. One was “How do you get the girls?”

“That’s easy,” he replied. “We send scouts to malls and other places where kids hang out and look for girls with daddy issues.”

Kathrine says that was the moment she knew why she’d been seated next to this man. God had put him there to let her know there were girls out there who needed help. “I didn’t have a father in my life. I should have been one of those statistics,” she says.

For years, she’d had a vision of creating a foundation that would do some good in the world. She even had a name: Pure Hope, which is what her name—Kathrine Nadine—means in different languages. She’d just been waiting for a sign about who needed her help. Now she had it.

When she got home, she started looking into the pornography business. She learned that many of the workers are there because someone tricked or coerced them. It’s called sex trafficking, and its henchmen snare hundreds of thousands of victims ­every year in the United States alone. The average mark is only 12 years old. According to the Department of Justice, human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime in the world.

“My heart got broken wide open,” says Kathrine.

Her husband, Michael Lee, shared her determination to help. In time, their dream began to take shape: a home for women who got out of “the life.” Through friends, they found just the place in Mount Vernon, Texas. With the proceeds from the sale of their house in California and donations (many from business clients and those who come to Kathrine’s motivational seminars), they opened Hope Home.

“It’s a dark issue,” says Kathrine. “But when you bring light into the darkness, it’s no longer dark.”

At Hope Home, each woman has a room of her own. Residents come together to cook and eat meals at a table adorned with candles and cloth napkins. It’s the ordinary-seeming moments that are the ones most worth celebrating, says Kathrine, who calls it “doing the pots and pans of life.”

“My favorite memory here is the first time I set the table for a family-style dinner, and a woman in her 30s sat down and said she had not eaten with a family since she was 14 years old,” says Susan Kovaka, the program director. She lives in the home with the women, as does a licensed counselor and a therapy dog named Hope.

The women come from around the country. Some are referrals; some have just left rehab. They learn how to shop on a budget and plan meals and other life skills no one ever taught them. They learn to care for horses and other animals. Most attend classes to get their GEDs, having missed school for most of their lives, then go to college or some kind of job training. Two of the interns, as residents are called, recently graduated from cosmetology school.

The women can live in Hope Home as long as they need to; most stay ­18 months to two years, though the connection lasts a lifetime. “We tell them, ‘We want to be invited to your wedding and the birth of your first kid, and we want to see you at Christmas,’” says Kovaka.

“Anna,” one of Hope Home’s current interns, was trafficked at age 12. Now 27, she’s about to start college and wants to be a computer programmer. “For the first time in my life, I can see that I will have a normal life. I will be able to get a good job, support myself, and have a great future,” she says.

Even though she made all this happen, Kathrine deflects any attention that comes her way and points it at the women, saying, “I really, truly, with all my heart believe they’re the heroes.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Jody L. Rohlena
Jody L. Rohlena is a senior editor at Reader's Digest.