University City

5K to benefit program for trafficked girls

When Nickie Haas first learned at her church about Mercy Ministries, she felt a strong pull to help.

Sitting in a chair at Freedom House Church in University City, Haas listened to the charity's founder, Nancy Alcorn, share the experiences of young people who overcame horrific circumstances to become productive and successful women after graduating from the program.

The nonprofit Christian charity takes in girls and young women who have fallen prey to sex trafficking, or who suffer from eating disorders, self-mutilation or other self-harm issues.

"I told my husband, 'I don't care if I have to scrub toilets. Whatever I can do to help,' " said Haas. "Hearing the stories, I knew I needed to get involved."

Since then, Haas has helped organize Run for Mercy, a 5K run and family walk that raised $28,000 in 2010, the event's first year, and hopes to provide a $50,000 check to Mercy Ministries this year. All proceeds help cover operational costs for the charity's four Mercy houses, located in Missouri, California, Louisiana and Tennessee.

The organization also operates facilities in Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

In recent years, several Charlotte churches, such as Freedom House Church, have come together to encourage Mercy Ministries to build a home in the Queen City. The organization's executive director, Christy Singleton, said that possibility has a strong chance of happening.

"We really look toward a community to come to us with the interest and the support," said Singleton. "Charlotte has been open arms, and people have come out of the woodwork. I have no doubt that we'll be in Charlotte."

A facility in North Carolina makes sense for Mercy Ministries, said Singleton. A large number of the charity's applicants live in the state.

Since the organization began tracking its online applications in recent years, it has noted 2,000 women from North Carolina have applied to the program. Since January of this year, the charity has received 169 applicants from our state.

Other states with high application numbers include Tennessee, California and Missouri, which already have centers; Florida, which is under consideration for a branch; and Texas and Illinois, where no immediate plans for facilities exist.

Singleton said Mercy Ministries relies on the community when building a new branch, usually through a capital campaign or land donation.

"Mercy does not have a big reserve fund of money just waiting for someone to say, 'Hey, come build a home,' " she said. "It's a significant effort to get the current homes covered."

For now, that's what Haas hopes charity events such as the Run for Mercy 5K will do.

Last year 303 runners and walkers participated in the race at Reedy Creek Park. This year's event takes place at McAlpine Creek Park, to accommodate more than 500 expected participants.

Haas said she thinks how easily she or other women she knows could have fallen under similar circumstances, and she said the charity is a blessing for those who need help.

"We could have been a Mercy girl. We could have been crying out for help."