Woman on the Rise – Rebecca

Woman on the Rise: A Tale of Recovery

“I still remember him calling my father. I remember his exact words: ‘Come pick up your daughter now. I’m going to kill her.’ I guess he’d finally gotten everything from me he wanted.“

Battered, exploited and deep into a crack addiction, Rebecca had crash-landed at the bottom of a downward spiral of poor decisions and unsteady relationships. The last stop was Philadelphia, living with a man who promised the moon but instead got her hooked her on drugs, tracked her every move, kept her sequestered and at his whim exposed her to violence and pornography. X rays taken of Rebecca after she was recovered would reveal several broken ribs, a broken tailbone, and crushed shoulder blades. That was November 2014.

With the help of her father – who answered the phone, GPS’d his way to the address and brought Rachel back home to Northern Virginia – she not only overcame her addiction but was able to reunite with her five children, who had been living in Hawaii. As she began to embark on the long road to recovery, she was safe – but overwhelmed. A visit from Child Protective Services soon followed.

“At first I denied everything, and then and a few days later I went back to the CPS worker and said I needed help,” says Rebecca who’s now 41 and has children ranging in age from 7 to 17. “And she told me about this new program called Together We Bake. I was still pretty screwed up, but thought I’d see what it was.”

What she found was an environment of unconditional support. “I didn’t always know how to open up to people about what happened, but just knowing that these guys were here, they gave me the confidence to talk about it. I tried to work in Philly, but because of the drugs he was giving me I ended up flaking out on that job and I thought, ‘How am I ever going to get hired again, how am I going to start over?’ But I made it here every day. Knowing I had to be accountable was a really big thing for me.”

Through self-empowerment sessions, Rebecca’s emotional scars began to heal; through time in the kitchen working to complete her ServSafe certification, she discovered a love of baking. Just a week after TWB graduation, she landed a job at local retailer Great Harvest Bread Company. “Near the end [of the TWB session], they paired us up with a job counselor, and she helped me write this kick-ass resume and the very first place I went, I got a job right away,” she beams.

The TWB team also helped Rebecca connect with Alexandria-based nonprofit Empowered Women International, which helped her obtain the necessary licenses to sell breads at local farmers markets.

Rebecca continues to take brave steps both personally and professionally. She’s now the proprietor of her own business, whose goal is to benefit a specific population via employment and funds, and whose name has a double meaning: the stages of bread dough rising and her soft-spoken, powerful mantra of resilience.

Ask her the mission of Second Rising Bread and she recites it as effortlessly as reciting her birth date: “Second Rising was started to provide job training, life skills and meditation to help girls who escaped from sex trafficking to rise and become the beautiful women they were meant to be.”

She’s still coming to terms with her own harrowing experience. Details of the abuse she endured come in waves, and she puts her hands up to her temples as she recounts them.

“I still don’t really feel like I understand what happened in Philadelphia. There’s a lot of stuff that has come back over time,” she says. “It was always night, and there were always such bright lights. There were so many videos, all the time. And videos of other people I had to watch, some with kids my daughter’s age. I was pretty shattered by the time I got back here. If hadn’t been for TWB program, I don’t know if I could have made it.”

Today, Rebecca is determined to own her recovery, and to do her part in protecting young women and men from having to endure what she did. “There’s one thing I do know,” she says. “How many kids when they’re little say, ‘I think when I grow up I’m going to be a prostitute and have people… beat me, and take drugs so I don’t care anymore.’ How many kids grow up and say, ‘I want to be that?’ ”

— Cathy Applefeld Olson