BY ERICA RUCKER PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS WITZKE
When Angela Renfro was just nine years old, she was turned out on the streets by a family member. She worked as a prostitute until age 29. After 20 years on the street and surviving the abuse of several johns, including the one who gave her the moniker Kristi Love, Renfro had enough. She wanted to change her life.
Being homeless so young, Renfro did not complete middle or high school. She finally got her diploma at the age of 40 and started to explore higher education, but was called by something greater.
“I took all my school money to start Kristi Love,” she says. “I took every last drop of it.”
With the little education she had, she put all of her money forward and began her mission to save the lives of as many young girls and women as possible.
“We were trying to find a breakthrough, and we didn’t know where we were going to get it from,” she says. She weathered many odd looks when trying to explain her mission to help women who were involved in prostitution and human trafficking. But what Renfro didn’t realize was that her mission was being shared, and soon she would meet Community Foundation of Louisville President and CEO Susan Barry.
From that point on, her luck would completely change.
Tearfully Renfro shares, “When Susan came to visit us — to even have anyone come to us at that capacity, that important — we didn’t feel that we’re important. We never think people look at us like that, to even give us a chance.”
It turns out this chance was all she needed for her organization to take off and change the lives of over 700 women and girls. From the Community Foundation, she got her first grant and assistance with setting up her board of directors. This spring, Kristi Love Foundation hosted its Survivor’s Luncheon with a keynote by Cindy McCain, co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Human Trafficking.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Rachelle Starr was driving to work at a local media company when she passed Theatre X in Jeffersonville. A feeling overwhelmed her, and she knew that she had to stop, “I felt the overwhelming sense that God wanted me to approach the ladies.”
She didn’t stop that day, but spent some time reading about the issue of prostitution and human trafficking. Worldwide, human trafficking represents a $32 billion industry, with most of that money coming from industrialized nations like the United States. The number of people who are bought and sold range from 600,000 to 800,000 each year. These are largely women and girls, but some are young men. Many are also victims of childhood abuse, both physical and sexual.
“I started to learn and research about trafficking and the exploitation of women. It was about a year later that I decided if we were going to build relationships with them, we were going to have to go where they were.”
She went to Theatre X and then began visiting women in similar situations at other clubs around the local area. She didn’t know whom she’d meet or how she would be received, but she went nevertheless. From this, Scarlet Hope was born. The organization’s mission is to share the hope of Jesus with every woman in the adult entertainment industry. “Obviously, I didn’t know much about this population or this profession, but as I got to know them I realized a lot of them are single moms,” she says. “When you’re a single mom and you’re trying to raise three children, it’s really hard to make enough money and to provide for kids.”
Starr did something that few had done — she listened to the women and helped however she could. Sometimes it was serving meals. Sometimes it was helping a mother get clothing or food for her family. After four years of working with women in local clubs and adult theatres, Starr got an idea from her former life as a baker.
“When I first started this organization, I would basically hire and teach women to do the wedding cakes with me,” she says. “I’ve always wanted a bakery where I could employ women that needed a second chance but also train and equip them for success for a long, long time.”
In December 2015, Scarlet’s Bakery opened. Located in Shelby Park, Starr thought the location would serve the business well in several capacities. “Practically it’s a very easy place, a central place to get to. We primarily chose it for our participants. Transportation is the third largest hurdle for women who want to leave trafficking and exploitation.”
The other two major hurdles are having enough money to live and being able to afford and find adequate childcare. These issues are at the forefront of Starr’s decision to found Scarlet Hope and Scarlet’s Bakery. The organization is determined to support and reach women wherever they are and offer tangible opportunities for change.
“We’ve been doing this for nine years now, in the clubs. I’ve been working towards this for 10 years. Now that we’ve had a presence, we serve about 350 to 400 people every week,” says Starr.
“We get calls from Atlanta, we get calls from ladies in other parts of the country that met someone in the club, or someone that knew us. Our reach now has gone much further and deeper, and we serve any woman that comes to us, no matter what she’s been through.”
Both Kristi Love Foundation and Scarlet Hope are committed to helping and serving as many women as possible, whatever that may mean. With the support of organizations like the Community Foundation, they are able to save lives and offer second chances to those who thought there were no more chances left.