A young California woman’s recent death sent a wave of sadness through a group of volunteers who run a ministry that reaches out to the marginalized in a south Oklahoma City neighborhood.
The men and women of No Boundaries International who regularly reach out to women like the slain young woman, Jarrae Estepp, said her death earlier this month simply reinforces their commitment to those whose lives have been broken by addiction, abuse, prostitution and human trafficking.
And they want the community-at-large to see that it, too, must help before other lives are lost.
“No one should die like that,” said Lori Basey, one of the co-founders of No Boundaries International.
Estepp’s naked body was found in the trash at a recycling plant in Anahaim, Calif., on March 14, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Times said her death was tentatively ruled a homicide.
Basey and Sandy Orchard, who helped found No Boundaries, said they have been working for several years to build relationships with people involved in prostitution and sex trafficking in an area of S Robinson that they said has a 40-year history of such activity.
The pair said their outreach workers had encountered Estepp, 21, several times in 2012 on S Robinson when she was featured in a video by someone chronicling the prostitution activity in the area.
Basey and Orchard said Edmond-based No Boundaries International held a prayer vigil for Estepp to emphasize that her life had value and meaning.
The founders, and the volunteers who serve with them, offer tangible aid to young women, the homeless and down and out in the area.
One of the ways they do that is through a free clothes closet where women escaping sex trafficking, refugees and others who just need help may obtain clothing and see the friendly faces of volunteers who care about them. The ministry decided to name the little shop after Carina Saunders, a Bethany woman whose dismembered body was found behind a grocery store in 2011.
It’s in her name that volunteers like Debbie Ashford show up to Carina’s Closet, 135 SW 26, to open the shop each Wednesday. Basey said Ashford, who serves as the store’s manager, came up with the idea for the clothes distribution site.
“She felt like she wanted to have a place where they could come and get something, some clothes with dignity,” Basey said.
The shop features clothing for men, women and children, shoes and accessories. Most clients are given a small bag of toiletries when they are available. Basey said many of the shoppers are referred to the little store by various social service agencies. Others come from the neighborhood and include families of children at two nearby elementary schools. She said for that reason, volunteers have begun gathering uniforms that can be given to children who attend the local schools.
“We are here to help the entire community,” Basey said.
“They need to be loved and feel loved.”
Turning things around
Basey and Orchard, both of Edmond, said they founded No Boundaries International in 2006 and spent many years working with human trafficking victims and others in need around the globe. Then in 2011, someone asked the Oklahoma natives if they would come to help the area of south Oklahoma City where they are now firmly planted.
Basey said they decided to take a trip to the area and they were surprised by what they saw.
“We watched what was going on and our hearts broke. We saw johns circling the area and girls out on the street, some of them visibly pregnant. We watched one girl go with men every 15 minutes and a guy would come and take money from her. Halfway through the day, he brought her a hot dog and a Mountain Dew,” she said. “You can’t believe that it’s happening and sure enough, it is — and we’re right in the middle of the Bible Belt.”
The first steps
Orchard said they decided to take a mission approach to the situation by organizing and training volunteers to reach out to the people in the targeted area. She said a group of trained volunteers regularly walks S Robinson and many of the other streets in the neighborhood near Carina’s Closet, hoping to interact with people.
Basey said they figured they could do the most good by becoming part of the community and developing meaningful relationships with those who live there. For that reason, the ministry leases a former fire station at 3416 S Robinson. They call it the Firehouse Community Center and it houses a food pantry, an area for counseling, prayer and worship.
More recently, the ministry purchased a house in the neighborhood, and a married couple who volunteer for No Boundaries moved in.
Basey said she remembers the day the ministry hosted a block party near the community center. She said one parent said she couldn’t let her children go outside near the park because men known as pimps used that area to routinely attack the women connected to them.
Basey said the woman told her the block party was nice but at the end of the day, the volunteers would go home, leaving the residents to deal once again with the rougher elements of the area. Basey said the ministry’s volunteers have come a long way since that day. Now, she said, they are considered neighbors by most of the people who live in the area, because they have shown their commitment to the residents.
‘God keeps showing up’
By being there day in and day out, they can help some of the women involved in prostitution make different choices, she said. Many of them have been victimized since childhood and don’t know any other way to live.
Basey said she talks to several of the women who have left that world behind through No Boundaries and she is reminded that the ministry’s efforts are not in vain.
“The stories are just heartbreaking because they’re victims of either the pimps, the drugs or society because this has been allowed,” Basey said.
“But God just keeps showing up. It’s crazy the cool things that are happening and I really think we can turn this thing around.”