Kelley Stagnaro grew up within the giant swath of Georgia that makes up metro Atlanta, but she rarely ventured into the city. There were too many unknowns.
As an adult, Stagnaro now proudly calls Atlanta home. What is more, she sees the city’s massive sex-trafficking problem for the blight that it is and offers hope, healing, and restoration to its victims.
In 2012 Stagnaro co-founded BeLoved Atlanta. BeLoved provides housing and a long-term restoration program for women over 18 who seek freedom from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. BeLoved’s house has four beds and is the only residential program in Atlanta for women wanting to leave the sex industry.
As the issue of sex trafficking gains more attention throughout Georgia, Stagnate and Quinn work to help those in power see the issues clearly while also helping women find freedom.
In addition, BeLoved connects women with a range of resources. By identifying the trauma each woman has suffered, BeLoved provides counseling and connects them with the rehab services they need.
BeLoved also helps women get the tools necessary to live independently in an environment where they won’t feel the need to return to prostitution or substance abuse. Staff members help women develop plans for completing their education and obtaining employment. They also assist them in securing safe, affordable housing.
A Dark Urban Reality
The work of BeLoved is critical in a region struggling with a massive underground sex economy. While sex trafficking affects every community, Atlanta has the highest sex-economy income in the United States, $290 million per year.
As convention centers and hotels have expanded, the sex trade has grown with it. State legislators and law-enforcement officials realize the problem and are trying to stiffen penalties against pimps and johns, but countless children and women are still victims.
Friends on a Mission
The idea of BeLoved began as a dream for Stagnaro and friend Amelia Quinn. The two met through mutual friends and connected over a shared passion for helping women gain freedom and restoration from the imprisoning life of the sex trade.
Quinn was profoundly impacted by a trip to Costa Rica with Light-Force International, a ministry to women involved in the legal sex trade in Costa Rica. Quinn saw firsthand, and later shared with Stagnaro, how women enslaved in prostitution were baffled by someone giving them food and wanting to listen to their stories. After a life where every interaction is a transaction, the prostitutes were mystified that someone wanted to give them something without asking anything in return.
God used Quinn’s time in Costa Rica to move her to consider ministering to women in Atlanta. As she shared her experiences with Stagnaro, the two began to dream of working together to fulfill an unmet need: long-term restoration for adult women.
Stagnaro and Quinn began renting BeLoved’s current house in 2013, and in fall 2015 they began raising funds to open a second house with room for four additional women.
Stagnaro and Quinn hope to obtain even more property. They dream of owning several houses for women in the program and also
offering affordable housing to women who have completed the program and are continuing their healing journeys.
As more women gain freedom from the dark life of prostitution and addiction, Stagnaro and Quinn want them to be able to encourage others along the way.
Starting a ministry with a dear friend might sound ideal, and Quinn and Stagnaro both see what a blessing it is to labor alongside each other, but the struggles of work and life wear on them. They have had to set boundaries to keep work, life, and friendship in balance.
“I love that I know Kelley’s heart and how passionate she is about this issue and wants to glorify the Lord through her work,” Quinn said. “She cares about the residents, and she knows exactly how to encourage me. And I can do the same for her.”
Stagnaro and Quinn also gain strength from the two other women who round out the BeLoved staff: program director Michelle Hoeft and case manager Lindsay Johnson.
Seeing and Celebrating Survivors
Stagnaro said for most women, knowing that they are valued and trustworthy is a great gift. And as the virtual voice of BeLoved, Stagnaro crafts BeLoved’s message for the blog and website and shares the vision with donors. She also designed the organization’s logo and branding.
“From the beginning of BeLoved, we knew we wanted the survivors in our program to be seen for who they truly are: incredible, strong, and brave women,” Stagnaro said. “We see them as leaders in our community and believe Atlanta is at a disservice when we view them as criminals or as unable to contribute to society.”
As she invests in BeLoved’s residents, Stagnaro said the stereotypes fade and real, complex, multidimensional people emerge. Each woman comes into the program with different wounds, and recovery looks different for each woman.
As the issue of sex trafficking gains more attention throughout Georgia, Stagnaro and Quinn work to help those in power see the issues clearly while also helping women find freedom.
And each woman who graduates from the program is a victory to be celebrated — a woman created in God’s image and valuable to Him and to BeLoved. Stagnaro wants those women to be valuable to Atlanta, too.