(Update: adding video, comments from founder)
"We have been the intercessory presence in their lives," founder Andi Buerger says
REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Beulah's Place, a Redmond nonprofit organization created as a safe haven for teen victims of sexual predators and criminal activity, is closing on Dec. 31 after 13 years of service to the Central Oregon community.
Andi Buerger, the founder and executive director of Beulah's Place, told NewsChannel 21 on Monday that between her medical health, a sharp drop in donations and other setbacks brought on by COVID-19, there's really no other option.
"COVID happened, governor mandates about youth centers not being opened -- all that stuff came into play," Buerger said. " My husband and I tried to carry the loan and the mortgage on, but you know, after awhile, we just weren't able to do it. We had to sell it."
Buerger said she was inspired to start the non-profit after experiencing her fourth massive brain injury out of nine in 2008, which affected her ability to do the work she used to. With that pivotal life-changing moment, and her own traumatic experience of being sexually trafficked, she wanted to expand her level of service.
"I was trafficked from age 6 months to 17 years old by family members, way back before there was a term called human trafficking, so I could have ended up like any of those girls," Buerger said. "That's when we decided we had to do something."
Over the years, the volunteer-run organization has helped more than 300 young people with housing, a support system, and other essential needs. The organization helps 18-22 year-olds with temporary shelter, housing them anywhere between 3-6 months depending on the number of host families willing to take in a child.
Although housing isn't reserved for minor teens, they receive continued support through other services and programs offered through the organization. Right now, Buerger says they have six teen girls still in need of help and are in search of support.
"We have been the intercessory presence in their lives," Buerger said. "People who actually believed in them and who cared enough to go the distance, even with the bombs along the way."
Fifty of the graduates have successfully transitioned into more stable living, with a high-school diploma or GED, financial independence and higher education.
In order to graduate, the young adults need to be able to integrate back into community with little to no assistance. To help the teens get further along, the programs include providing donated vehicles and assisting with educational development.
"Our success rate was 92% of keeping those kids independent," Buerger said.
Buerger also said they were able to help eight of the young adults get into college.
One of most poignant memories that Buerger said will always stay with her is of one girl who tried to commit suicide because of her past trauma.
"One of our girls had a rough time and ran into some of her abusers locally, which was a little much for her," Buerger said.
"She ended up in the ER. She didn't want to take her life, but it was too much for her. When she woke she told me, 'You know, nobody ever cared if I woke up, or showed up, or came home -- until you.'"
Buerger said it's important for people to know that just because they see a teen on the street with tattoos, smoking, or acting rebellious, does not mean they're bad or criminals. She said some have been trafficked, pimped out, and suffer from PTSD. What will help them through, she says, is offering guidance and making them feel valued.
As of now, Buerger is taking a step back to care for her physical health, but has future plans to work with an organization called Voices Against Trafficking.
"What will happen is it will bring greater awareness and education to not just human trafficking, but sexual exploitation of kids in general," she said
Here's the message Buerger recently sent to supporters and the community:
August 24, 2021
As many of you know, I am a survivor of child sex trafficking and a fierce advocate to protect young people. I have dedicated my life to saving as many young lives as possible especially through my nonprofit - Beulah’s Place.
In 2008, a simple desire to help homeless at-risk teens find their purpose and hope became a reality. My husband Ed and I wanted these desperate young people to be safe and have a chance to live. We wanted them to find a life with purpose and the hope that God promises all His children. We founded Beulah’s Place, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and created a volunteer-driven safehouse system. We have been rescuing teens off the streets of Central Oregon and beyond. Over the years, we have helped over 300 young people with housing and essentials.
Every dollar donated to Beulah’s Place goes to the programs and care given to each teen (ages 18-22) housed. Every sheltered teen is required to sign a legally binding contract for voluntary housing and services. The average time for temporary shelter is between 3-6 months depending on individual circumstances and the number of host families willing to take in one of our kids.
Fifty of our ‘graduates’ have successfully moved into their own independent living situations with a high school diploma or G.E.D., holding down jobs, and many going on to college. It has made every sacrifice worth the effort. Beulah’s Place is so proud of every young person we have been able to help stabilize and provide a support system that they could rely on within the Central Oregon community! All of our graduates have given back in some way. A few are choosing professional careers that involve helping at-risk teens and young adults as they were once helped.
It is with a heavy heart that I must share that Beulah's Place will close its doors on Dec. 31, 2021 —for a number of reasons. At this time, my health will not permit me to continue at the pace and strength needed to move Beulah’s Place forward. The Board of Directors and I had to face the hard reality that Beulah’s Place can no longer operate as a volunteer-driven organization. During the past challenging 18 months (driven by the severe Covid crisis) our funding has plummeted. It was the reason we were not able to open the youth center. We were forced to sell the building. Every penny we have received has been invested into the young people we have helped. We have even reached into our own personal pockets and it is not enough. We still have many kids who we are helping to resolve their situations as best we can until the end of the year.
The success we have had in our community is greatly due to so many of you—our wonderful donors, volunteers, and our community. You have made our 92% success rate a reality. We are forever grateful that that percentage represents the number of housed youth who have graduated from our program and successfully live independently with little or no assistance.
Every prayer, every penny invested in each child who is in contact with Beulah’s Place is a blessing. We have six teen girls still in need of help. For our donors and supporters, I encourage you to continue helping Beulah’s Place through the end of 2021 at beulahsplace.org or (541) 526-0445. God bless each of you and our kids. Thank you!
Andi Buerger, JD
PO Box 518 • Redmond OR 97756