The board was decorated with pictures, each scrawled on with hopes and aspirations of the children who passed through the building. The picture nearest to the bottom had a note written in black marker. It read, “Be a vet, get married, go to college, be someone.”
Operation SafeHouse is a 24- hour nonprofit organization in Riverside devoted to help youth in crisis whether they are runaways, in abusive homes, homeless or victims of trafficking. SafeHouse houses an average of 12 youths ages 11-17 at a time in its facility and provides them with clothing, meals, games and activities, counseling and independent study applicable for school credit.
The rooms are decorated with fun bedspreads and billowy curtains, creating a comfortable feel reminiscent of a nice home. The backyard contains a basketball court and several cats that have been known to enjoy hugs and ear scratches from the residents.
Multiple programs are offered to promote positive living once a child leaves the facility, often being taught to “tear off labels” when it comes to mental illness or living in crisis, offering encouragement in such a trying time of life.
“Our main goal is to get kids off the street,” said Dana Darby, volunteer coordinator. “They don’t even know they’re victims. It’s a way of life, so we’re here to help them.”
A group of four girls were watching a movie in the schoolroom as Darby walked over to compliment the haircut of a young brunette. They smiled and waved at her as she left and walked past the garden the children work on year-round, which is sprouting small green tomatoes.
Darby explained Operation SafeHouse offers internship and volunteer opportunities for students to come offer their services for whatever the facility needs. Stories were told of children who came to the facility as youth in crisis and returned years later to volunteer at the organization that helped change their lives for the better.
She also mentioned SafeHouse operates a large anti-human trafficking program that works all over Riverside County with people of all ages, having even helped relieve a person in their 70s.
“It’s labor and sex trafficking, but we also work with survival sex,” said Mallory Wilkinson, anti-human trafficking case manager. “We are constantly getting referrals. Every day there’s about five.”
Wilkinson said they tell their clients they are the “middle man,” connecting them to the resources they need in areas such as education and insurance, and providing them the opportunity for a better and brighter life.
“A lot of times youth don’t know how to get out of those situations themselves, especially if they don’t have good mentors or people around them to help them out,” said Amanda Linder, junior biology major. “So it’s good to have organizations that are benefiting their futures, rather than being discouraged by their circumstances.”