A local resident and former Hollister High School student has started an effort to reduce prostitution in the area.
Mindy Stewart, with NightLight USA, said the Tri-Lakes Area is at risk, even though people might not realize it.
“It’s a crime like any other,” she said. “People in that industry keep it under wraps as much as they can. In Branson we love Jesus and we love America, and it’s not something we want to talk about.”
Educating people about the risk is part of her job now.
The Branson branch of NightLight is the organization’s fourth, joining Los Angeles, Atlanta and Bangkok, Thailand. It might not seem like Branson fits that group, but Stewart said the area fits all five risk categories.
She said poverty, single-parent homes, drug trafficking and use, former abuse and tourism are all prevalent in the area.
“I grew up in Branson,” she said. “I grew up in this environment. I had experience with some of those things, and if I didn’t, a friend did.”
Stewart discovered a passion for the cause while on a mission trip to southeast Asia and Atlanta with NightLight. When she returned home, she could see the need.
So she spoke with her mentor at NightLight, Courtney Dow, the U.S. director.
Stewart first wanted to start her own ministry in the area, but Dow had her open the agency’s fourth branch. The board approved her to start the branch in July.
So far, she’s been working to spread the word about the organization, which still needs donations and volunteers.
In December, she’s planning to start the intervention phase, which includes going into strip clubs to speak with dancers.
“We just encourage them, pray with them and build relationships,” she said.
She said building those relationships is the most important part of her job — it’s also key to the prevention phase, which involves reaching out to children.
“The average age for someone to be entered into prostitution is 11- to 14-years-old,” Stewart said.
She plans to begin the prevention phase in June.
In the meantime, the organization is trying to raise $35,000 to run the ministry. They’ll also hold a gift drive, for gifts to take into the clubs, and volunteers are still needed, she said.
For more information, visit nightlightinternational.com.