A countywide effort is under way to help orphaned teenagers in Moldova, the poorest country in Eastern Europe.
Stella's Voice - part of Alabama-based Philip Cameron Ministries - is a nonprofit that rescues orphaned girls who otherwise may become victims of the country's brutal but lucrative sex trafficking ring.
Concord native Anne Hodges is an unofficial spokesperson for Stella's Voice and coordinator of a local effort to raise $100,000 for the nonprofit. Clothes, linens and similar goods also are being accepted. At least a half-dozen churches are helping with the ongoing effort.
Hodges learned about Stella's Voice through members of The Refuge, a Concord church that has been involved with Stella's Voice for about six years. In August, she helped organize a presentation by nonprofit founder Phillip Cameron, who brought along several girls in the program.
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"I was so moved by what I read about Stella's Voice - and from talking with friends at The Refuge - that I contacted the ministry to coordinate a project that would reach beyond the church and include all of Cabarrus County."
The vision of Stella's Voice is to speak for all the orphans of Moldova and to give them a safe home and raise them in a Christian environment. In the past five years, the ministry has been an advocate for thousands of orphans, provided Christmas gifts, coats, food, supplies, heating oil and clean water, as well as hope, encouragement, education and homes.
Jay Stewart, lead pastor of The Refuge, said he got church members involved years ago because he wanted to partner with people and ministries that could be defined as world-changers.
"That is why we chose, in our earliest days, to link arms with Philip Cameron and Stella's Voice," said Stewart. "I have been with him in Moldova and have seen first-hand the lasting impact of Stella's Voice in that nation.
"Young men and women who had very little promise of a future are learning skills and languages that are propelling them into successful careers."
Members of The Refuge have raised more than $250,000 for Stella's Voice.
"The countywide effort was inspired by what our church has already done," said Stewart. "It's a work that, once people find out about it, it's easy to get involved. And it's not difficult for people to find the motivation to support Stella's Voice."
The ministry also operates Stella's House, a program that offers homes to orphan girls who have aged out of state-run facilities and are prime targets for sex traffickers. While there, girls complete their education and learn life skills.
Currently, 53 girls live in two "Stella" homes in Moldova, and two more "Stella" houses are under construction. Costs to convert each of the current shells into homes is expected to reach $350,000. When finished, each building will house 25 girls.
Donations of clothing and similar items will go toward creating a resale store that will be operated by girls who are in the program.
"We are surrounded by a community of people who have a long legacy of mobilizing to positively influence the world around us," said Hodges. "Not only would this impact the lives of countless women in Moldova, but it is a fantastic opportunity to foster unity in our community and raise awareness of the evil of sex trafficking."
Concord lawyer Howard Irvin learned about Stella's Voice during the August presentation.
"My wife and I were completely overwhelmed by the founder and leader of the charity," said Irvin. "He was with about seven of his wards - young women and men in the program - who literally were saved from possibly an early death or, in the cases of the young women, a life as a pawn in the international sex trade...."
Irvin said the presentation moved him to help spread awareness.
"Their treatment, in many cases, is inhumane," said Irvin. "Then, at 16, they are forced out on their own, with only a bus ticket back to their home town and about $30. They are completely unprepared, in all ways imaginable, to be forcibly thrust into this environment. Stella's Voice gives some of these young people a place to live, and hope for a better future."