Magnolia Rose founders Kristan Crummett-Dollar (left) and Jessica Garcia at their new gift shop in Waynesboro. Photo: Lisa Martin.
Magnolia Rose has opened a storefront on Main Street in Waynesboro that its founders hope will further their vision of hope and healing for victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking in the Shenandoah Valley. Launched in 2020, the nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing opportunities for emotional, economic, and personal empowerment to survivors, and the new store and building will serve that goal in multiple ways.
“This was a too-good-to-be-true opportunity for us,” said Magnolia Rose co-founder and director Kristan Crummett-Dollar, who also directs the Victim-Witness Assistance Program for the city of Waynesboro. When an investor bought several downtown buildings and offered space to Magnolia Rose for an apartment and storefront, the agency jumped at the chance. “Having a storefront will help raise awareness and also attract the volunteers that we need to come and help.”
Crummett-Dollar and co-founder Jessica Garcia took over the space of the Blue Moon Gallery, along with much of the store’s inventory, and the prior owner is allowing Magnolia Rose to sell those items and keep a percentage of the revenue. “Most of the people who work in the store are volunteers,” said Crummett-Dollar, “so the only ones we pay are the survivors that come and work here.” The store sells locally owned and made items such as art, clothing, gifts, and small plants, and all proceeds are used to fund direct services for survivors.
The agency’s website (magnoliarose.org) accepts donations and will soon feature items made by trafficking survivors in its online store. The organization also manages an emergency apartment, called the Magnolia Rose Cottage, for victims identified by law enforcement. The apartment provides two-week stays for victims, allowing enough time for medical care, forensic interviews, and identifying the appropriate trauma-informed programs for survivors. “It’s a temporary solution to help get them immediate care and to get them off any drugs, because a trafficking shelter will not take them until they are clean,” said Crummett-Dollar.
In the spring, the two partners plan to open a drop-in center in another part of the building behind the store. “It’s meant for teenage girls at risk, who may be walking the streets or don’t have the greatest home life and don’t have a safe place to hang out, as well as for survivors,” said Crummett-Dollar. Beyond providing safety and company, the center will offer space for life-skills classes, support groups, counseling, and healing programs, as well as a place for community agencies to connect with survivors.
A Dearth of Resources
Crummett-Dollar and Garcia, who is a victim advocate in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, see their work with Magnolia Rose as filling a critical void. “We help all over the state, but we try to concentrate in the Shenandoah Valley because there are no services for human trafficking victims here—none,” said Crummett-Dollar. “The closest shelter we have that will accept girls outside of their jurisdiction is Latisha’s House in Williamsburg.”
“The toughest part has been funding,” said Garcia. “We don’t have state grants, federal funding, nothing. We have one local community foundation that helped us to get a $1,000 grant just to get started, but everything else really has been the [Waynesboro] community coming through for us. Our hope is that the state can give us a line in the budget [for victim support], and we plan to work with our state delegates for that.” Much of the funding to establish the store and apartment has come from Magnolia Rose’s founders’ own pockets, or has been raised during time off from their regular jobs.
“Jessica and I have been going around doing some speaking engagements at churches and smaller groups, and we’re seeing some donations come in, which is fantastic,” said Crummett-Dollar. “New Creation in Harrisonburg paid the December rent for the apartment. We’re hoping to get businesses, or twelve different people, to say ‘I’ll pay a month’s rent at the storefront or the apartment,’ and that would really help.”
Not only are victim witness programs facing cuts, but surrounding jurisdictions are losing facilities. Farmville closed its domestic violence shelter recently, and funding for new facilities often tips toward already-established organizations used by police task forces in bigger cities. “To start a new one, the state wants to see the last several years of your books and [victim assistance] statistics,” said Crummett-Dollar. “I understand that, but how are we supposed to find placements for these girls? I’m now having to place girls in trafficking shelters out of state.”
A Benevolent Landlord
Tina Raybon is the Waynesboro resident who invested in the buildings that now house Magnolia Rose’s storefront, apartment, and future drop-in center, and she says it’s been a miraculous journey. “I have to say, this is totally a God thing,” said Raybon. “I wasn’t looking for this building. But I knew the person who owned the Blue Moon Gallery and she approached me about buying the building from her, and we signed a contract last fall. So, I was thinking about what could go in there, and just then I was introduced to Kristan and Jess, who were looking for a storefront on Main Street because they wanted to bring awareness to human trafficking and they wanted it to be very visible.”
Raybon knows that she could have leased out the prime space with its lovely front windows for a large sum, but that wasn’t what her gut was telling her. “It just happened,” she said. “It wasn’t me buying the building and having a grand idea that I could put a nonprofit there, I truly think God said, ‘If I get this building into her hands, then it will work out that [Magnolia Rose] can have it for this purpose.’”
Since then, the former stay-at-home mom and homemaker has found herself awed by the work Crummett-Dollar and Garcia are doing. “I was not very familiar with trafficking until now,” said Raybon. “You hear about it but have no idea how it really happens. And Kristan and Jess just put their whole selves into helping—by donating some of the stuff for the apartment from their own homes and in so many other ways.” She has found herself drawn to the cause, even transformed in some ways.
“I’m not on the board or anything, but I find myself over at the store all the time,” she said. “I feel like God just put this there, for me, for them, for what He’s going to accomplish through this. I’ve met FBI agents, and congressional delegates, and sometimes I wonder what am I supposed to do next? I’ve always been a careful person, not wanting to start until I know what’s going to happen, but watching Kristan and Jess has made me adopt a little of their attitude of ‘Okay, let’s get it done.’ And if that’s not it, we’ll back up and try again.”
There for Them
Magnolia Rose has worked with more than 100 trafficking victims since 2020, many of whom are not referred by police or hotlines, but instead find the organization via social media or word of mouth. “Often they bypass the police department because of issues they don’t want to report, but yet they still need help,” said Crummettt-Dollar. While few cases end in prosecutions because traffickers are so elusive, Magnolia Rose’s priority is to ensure that victims know they can be counted on for help.
The stories are harrowing, from a late-night rescue of a victim outside a gang stronghold to the discovery that victims were actually being trafficked out of a supposed shelter in Virginia Beach. The partners’ resolve, however, is crystal clear. “It’s never going to be said about us that we didn’t respond,” said Crummettt-Dollar.
The two victim advocates acknowledge both the highs and the low points of trying to help women and girls who are being trafficked. “We know that it can take many attempts at getting out of that life to actually do it,” said Crummett-Dollar. “But even if they do relapse, we know they’ll come back for help, they know our cell phone numbers by heart, and they’ll call us from whatever state they’re in and know that we’re here for them.”
Posted in The Crozet Gazette, written by Lisa Martin - READ HERE