This is a guest blog, written by Empowered Living Program staff member, Kimberlie.

My name is Kimberlie Marsh and I did a yearlong internship at Wellspring Living for Girls doing strengths-based counseling.  I have volunteered at the Virginia Highlands Wellspring Treasures store, and currently do PRN coach work at the Wellspring Empowered Living Program.  This January I am moving to India with The International Justice Mission to work with girls who have been sexual exploited or trafficked.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of working in different capacities with Wellspring Living since May of 2011, though my knowledge of Wellspring extends well before that.  I began Richmont Graduate University in the fall of 2010 seeking a Masters of Professional Counseling. I could not have imagined what the last two years would have in store for me.  I had heard about Wellspring through my church and was interested in the organization but not really sure what I might be able to offer.  When it was time for me to do an internship I was pleasantly surprised that Wellspring Living for Girls was an option.  I began doing counseling with the girls in May of 2011.  Everything I envisioned about my time there was challenged and changed in one way or another over the course of the year.  I, being in a helping profession, have the strong desire to help people, and yet the ways I ended up being able to help were drastically different from anything I had envisioned.  I feel as if I was made to be working with those girls, but it was one of the hardest and most stretching times of my life.  The beautiful thing is that God showed up in my weakness. He is the true change agent, not only my life but in the girls’ lives as well.

I cannot say enough good things about my time at Wellspring, even though it was a very difficult year.  There are two things I learned that stand out of my many experiences because they impacted me so drastically.  The first I learned during a training from a woman who had been trafficked and escaped: relapse is a part of recovery.  I had the misconception that these girls would be thrilled with being ‘rescued’ and in a wonderful, safe place surrounded by people who cared about them.  Don’t get me wrong, these times do exist, but by in large the girls were initially very angry, hurt, discouraged, and had a difficult time trusting anyone.  Even more shocking to me was that they did not want to be there at the beginning.  I came to learn and understand that, like those who suffer from substance addiction, these girls suffered from a ‘love addiction’.  Just as it is common for an addict to relapse with their drug of choice, these girls would likely do the same.  Most of them had an initial dislike of all things relating to Wellspring Living, but over time most learned to trust and love the people there to help them.

The second thing I learned had to do with the girls learning to trust the staff and therapists with their emotions.  There would often be times when the girls were annoyed, frustrated, irritated, or distressed about something and acted out on those emotions.  In the beginning this discouraged me, but over time I learned to appreciate those outbursts in a different way than I ever could have imagined.  I learned that these girls do not easily trust; in their previous home environments it could be dangerous for them to be open with their emotions.  I began to be grateful for the outbursts because that meant they trusted me enough to be real and honest with their emotions, and that they knew they could express those behaviors and still be loved and taken care of.   Learning these two lessons enabled me to approach, understand, and connect with the girls in a way that far exceeded my expectations of my time with Wellspring Living for Girls.  It changed my mindset of how I viewed the girls and other people dealing with trauma.

Sadly, my time counseling with the girls’ program ended with my graduation from Richmont.  I have had the privilege of being a part of numerous graduations for girls who have grown and matured in so many ways even after I have left, and I have high hopes for their continued success.  I am at a great advantage in my work at the Empowered Living Program because of my experience working with girls in this specific population.  I feel as though I know them well and have an understanding of what they struggle with, even though I have never personally experienced what they have.  I have been extremely blessed with the opportunity to move to India with International Justice Mission to work in one of their field offices that does sex trafficking case work.  I know that my time at Wellspring has provided me with skills that will be indispensable for my work with International Justice Mission and the girls that I will be serving in India.