The NISSI Project’s Sara Lefevers: Working to Bridge the Gap Between a Survivor's Rescue and Restora
Human trafficking is a critical, pressing issue that many people in the Gulf Coast community care deeply about. Sara Lefevers’ passion for helping survivors or trauma led her to become the newest president and CEO of the Network of Immediate Services for Survivors International (NISSI Project), an organization whose stated mission is “Bridging the Gap Between a Survivor’s Rescue and Restoration.”
Lefevers has been advocating for victims since she was first introduced to the realities of human trafficking as a junior in college studying criminal justice. From that time on, she participated in as many anti-trafficking events or initiatives in the area as she possibly could. While working for the federal government in her past job, Lefevers had the unique opportunity to work on national anti-trafficking legislation and advocacy initiatives for victims. Lefevers has also had the opportunity to serve as chair for the Circuit One Human Trafficking Task Force, work on state-wide steering committees, and volunteer with search and rescue teams doing SAR and sting operations across the country.
Through all these experiences, Lefevers’ heart was struck by the fact that there were no sustainable, immediate care options for victims. Most victims were expected to find resources on their own or were given some short-term assistance with no long-term option to follow. She decided that a gap in services was a place where she could serve, and so the team at The NISSI Project took on that mission. Their mission is to “bridge the gap for survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation between their rescue and restoration” by providing short-term, immediate care assistance and advocacy to assist the survivor in getting to and thriving at the best aftercare solution to meet their individual needs. The NISSI Project’s first short-term, immediate care facility will be open right here in Pensacola later this year.
The NISSI Project organization helps advocate for victims’ rights and exposes the abuse and trauma that so many girls and women experience while trafficked or exploited. They offer women and girls hope by meeting them where they are at and providing immediate care needs with a trauma-informed approach to help establish trust with the victims and ultimately empower them to take the next step in their restoration journey. The organization also has a strong emphasis on prevention and training to decrease the vulnerability of our community being trafficked or exploited and to fight all aspects of what drives the demand for human trafficking. Their focus is to encourage women and girls to know their worth and value in who they were created to be.
“I cannot emphasize the importance of accessibility to resources enough! Human trafficking knows no barriers and can impact and affect each and every one of us in multiple ways. Oftentimes it does and we don’t even know it,” Sara says.
Access to resources helps these women and girls with the following:
Know how and where to report and take action when they see injustice happening,
Equip themselves with knowledge of the signs of a dangerous situation of possible trafficking and exploitation and trains them on how to protect themselves,
Assist victims in getting out of their situation with confidence that the services available are sustainable and effective,
Build a sense of that both we are in this journey with them and they are not alone,
Connect to long-term, sustainable and proven services,
Get back on their feet, take ownership over their lives and survive and thrive in the beautiful life they dreamed of and deserve.
The NISSI Project not only services mostly women, but its team and volunteers are also made up mainly of women. It is Lefevers’ goal to create a culture of worth, value and empowerment for every woman touched by our organization to know they are a beautiful creation, valued, loved, and they add so much value to this world and have the power to turn this world upside down and ensure empowerment and freedom for women once and for all. “Our bodies are not commodities, and it is my hope to inspire women to know they are fashioned for more by a loving Creator,” Lefevers says.
Lefevers is inspired by many powerful women throughout history such as Esther from the Bible, Amy Carmichael who was a missionary who freed hundreds of trafficked children in India in the early 1900s, and, of course, Margaret Thatcher. “Speaking from real life interactions, I am so blessed to have many amazing women in my life from this community that I admire such as Stacey Kostevicki, Pricilla Sapp - Kirkland, Jenn Grove, and many more! My mom is the real MVP though!”