The Arbor: A Healing Refuge for U.S. Trafficking Victims


“For 24,” is a year-long campaign telling the story of Freedom 4/24—from the survivors, world-changers, and volunteers to fundraisers, and behind-the-sceners. Our goal is to inform, inspire, and enrich your understanding of Freedom 4/24 and the work we do together.

Joanna Jennings
Joanna Jennings


Executive Director at The Arbor, Charlottesville, VA

Did you know that Freedom 4/24 has a dozen domestic partnerships in the U.S.? In May of this year, our Run 4 Their Lives event teamed with one of those partners, The Arbor in Charlottesville, VA, to raise funds and awareness to fight trafficking right here in our backyard.

We recently met with Joanna Jennings, the executive director of The Arbor to talk about the life-changing, restorative work being done there. The Arbor is a newly-opened safe house for adult women who are victims of human trafficking.  Joanna is passionate about providing a place for victims of human trafficking in Central Virginia. Not only is she driven to end human trafficking, she’s also driven to provide a holistic recovery process for victims. Here, in her own words, she explains the vital work being done at The Arbor. 


Joanna, tell us about how you became connected to the issue of human trafficking and how it led to the opening of The Arbor? 

While I was in NYC working on a master’s degree in social work and working directly with victims of sex trafficking, I became involved with a group of Christians in Charlottesville who wanted to start a similar safe house. After moving to Charlottesville in 2012 I joined the group, which eventually became the board of The Arbor. I was hired on as the Executive Director in June 2014.

What is the mission of The Arbor?

The Arbor provides safe housing and holistic aftercare to victims of human trafficking in Virginia, so they may experience wholeness, freedom, and life. Since opening in January 2015, The Arbor has housed five residents. Capacity is seven. Women typically stay between 1.5 and 2 years.

The Arbor heads women into a direction of recovery with help from case managers, attorneys, trauma-focused counselors, and medical professionals. The women in the Arbor are required to meet with people regularly to heal from trauma and start a life for themselves. Partnerships with local businesses in the area are developing to provide internships and jobs for the women as they prepare to leave the safe house and live on their own.

How do women coming out of trafficking scenarios get connected to The Arbor?

Referrals happen a number of ways—through law enforcement, social services agencies (domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, community service boards), and through victim self identification. Legally, these women have to come to The Arbor on their own terms. They are required to go through an application and screening process for the program.


What does aftercare looks like?

In addition to free room and board, each resident receives comprehensive case management so that she may be connected to existing resources in the community for various components of our aftercare program. This includes medical and dental needs, counseling, legal assistance, and education and job skills training.

How does The Arbor work to transition them back into the outside world?

Each resident is provided with opportunities to receive education and job skills training so that she will leave The Arbor’s program with employment. Each woman is different and forges her own different path toward healing, and we work to honor that each person’s path may look different.

What was the impact of Run 4 Their Lives for The Arbor?

This year’s race was the first race since our safe house officially opened, and the addition of more runners from the previous years also helped maximize impact in terms of awareness. The Point Church also did an amazing job hosting the race, and we’re hopeful that partnership will continue.

Give an example of life-change and healing from a woman who lives at The Arbor.

"I know I have inside me the strength to succeed. But every time I tried to make a new start, I had to live with people who were bad influences and I ended up going back to the life. But this place is so peaceful and homey and when I'm here I really feel like I could make a new life." –An Arbor safe house resident