Our program takes into account the factors that often keep women trapped, and offers what they need to heal.
Our model has over 20 years of success behind it.
Magdalene Omaha is part of a national network of sister organizations to Magdalene Nashville/Thistle Farms, where this model was founded by Becca Stevens in 1997. Thistle Farms is now the largest survivor-run small business in the United States, and their model has spread to over 40 communities across the country. In over twenty years of operations in Nashville, they have found that every woman who enters their program has a story that begins with a rape – the average age of the first assault is between 7-11. The average age these women began living on the streets is between 14-16. Many of them have spent decades battling through repeated rapes, violence, other trauma, and drug addiction.
The Magdalene Nashville residential community recovery program has achieved stunning results. In its twenty years of operation, 84% of the women who enter the program graduate clean and sober two years later. Two-thirds of them have maintained long-term sobriety and economic self-sufficiency living independently after graduation. Compare that to people who enter traditional rehab programs and the numbers actually flip. While the Magdalene program has achieved a 66% success rate in long-term sobriety, the U.S. government’s findings are that 60-70% of people who complete traditional rehab programs will use again within a year. This is not a criticism of traditional programs which do good work. It’s a testament to how hard it is to overcome addiction, and how well this model works for the unique needs of this population.
Omaha’s Sex Trafficking Problem
As noted in “Nebraska’s Commercial Sex Market,” published by the Women’s Fund of Omaha in 2017:
On average each month, 900 unique individuals are sold for sex in the state of Nebraska.
On average each month, 675 of those individuals are sold in the Omaha metropolitan area.
That means that today, over 20 people will be sold for sex in the Omaha area, most of them several times, and the majority are sold through coercion (trafficked).
The vision for Magdalene Omaha began in 2014. We spent a year learning about Omaha’s growing sex trafficking problem and the services already being provided. In 2015, we studied the Magdalene model in great depth – including going to Nashville to learn about it up close. Then, we engaged community leaders and those already doing work on the front lines in Omaha to help determine if this model was needed here, and if it was a good fit. There was overwhelming enthusiasm to bring this model to Omaha. In 2016, we formally created Magdalene Omaha, established a board, and received our 501c3 tax-exempt, non-profit designation from the IRS. In 2017, with the support of the Omaha community, we purchased our first house, renovated it ahead of schedule and under budget, and began to welcome home our first residents. In 2018, we opened Thistle Lights, our survivor-led small business.
Long-term, safe housing.
Participants in our program live rent-free in our residence for two years, rent-free. With basic needs like shelter, food, and clothing taken care of, survivors are able to focus on their journey toward healing. Living together in community develops residents' relational skills and provides them a supportive community of peers.
A plan for recovery, tailored to each woman’s needs.
Residents work with the residential staff to develop an individualized recovery plan and connect to the services they need. In the first six months, women begin to heal from trauma and receive all the medical, dental, mental health, and substance abuse treatment they need. As they progress through the program, they receive intensive educational programming that includes life skills, financial literacy, completing their GED, and vocational training. We also assist them with any pending legal matters they have.
Job training and education.
To ensure their long-term economic independence, residents work to achieve employment in the program's survivor-led small business, Thistle Lights. There, they learn job skills, build their resume, and grow their savings. Opportunities like additional vocational training to support their long-term goals, attending some college classes, a matched savings program, and employment internship programs with large employers and other small businesses in Omaha offer residents the chance to meet their unique long-term career goals.
Above all, love.
We strive to have love, respect, and acceptance for survivors inform everything we do. Of the women who enter the founding Magdalene program, 84% graduate clean and sober—a percentage unrivaled by any treatment center. That’s because Magdalene is not an institution, but a community, committed to the belief that love is the most powerful force for change in the world. The program is unique in its reliance on community, and its use of peer mentors and survivor-leaders to run the program as they progress through it and after they graduate.
Our program is one component of addressing the large and complex issue of trafficking. You can learn more about trafficking and our model by hosting a speaker at your gathering or organization.
Meet our Staff
Teresa Houser, Executive Director
An Omaha native, Teresa brings over thirty years of non-profit experience and community service to this position, including over twenty years of experience in addictions recovery programs and over eighteen years of experience in working with survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking. In 2014, she founded the Friends of Tamar, an organization dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual violence in all its forms, including rape, domestic violence, and trafficking. It was from this work that efforts to establish Magdalene Omaha began.
Tesa Miller, Director of Operations
Tesa joined the staff in 2017 after several years of service as a phenomenal volunteer. As Director of Operations, she oversees all daily operations of the residential program and Thistle Lights. She also led the incredible efforts with a team of amazing volunteers to renovate our residence ahead of schedule and under budget, and she runs our website and social media efforts. Tesa also works with our residents to invent, design, manufacture and sell Thistle Lights products.
Stacy Gustin, Financial Administrator
Stacy also joined the staff in 2017. As a long-time volunteer, Stacy played a major role in building Magdalene Omaha since it was just a crazy idea a few of us began to imagine. We daily benefit greatly from her immense expertise and wisdom. Indeed, she helps us in so many meaningful ways every day that we regularly refer to her as the Empress of All Knowledge.