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The LeSabre

Terebinth Refuge: a cause to care about

Terebinth Refuge is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women in the area who have been sexually trafficked or exploited. (Photo used with permission from Terebinth Refuge)

Terebinth Refuge, located in Waite Park, Minnesota, has been a safe haven for victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation since 2018. 

Terebinth was founded by Cynthia Terlouw-Kvistad (CeCe) after she had previously worked at Heartland Girls’ Ranch in Benson, Minnesota.  Heartland is a program that was started in 1992 for girls with emotional and behavioral issues.  Horses were an integral part of the healing and therapy at Heartland, with every girl getting her very own horse.  

Inspired by the positive work that was made at Heartland and through messages that she received from God, CeCe felt called to begin a new program to help women in her community.  So, in 2007, while Heartland grew, CeCe’s vision for her own organization flourished as well.  Together with her late husband, she decided to help women who were being sexually trafficked and exploited. 

Many states, including Minnesota, have a Safe Harbor Law, which treats youth in prostitution under the age of 24 as victims, rather than as criminals.[1]  In 2011, the Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door Model was passed, which aims to provide services for youth who have been sexually trafficked or exploited.  This is a slight expansion of the Safe Harbor Law that is upheld in other states.  Initially, the maximum age was 18, but CeCe testified among others and helped raise the age to 24, as most young adults are still dependent upon their families until this age.

The timing, CeCe remarked, couldn’t have been more perfect. In 2015, the Waite Park task force performed a sting operation and had uncovered that a 16-year-old was being sexually exploited.  This helped them to realize just how prevalent sex trafficking is in the area. As a result, CeCe was able to partner with local law enforcement, and they were eager to help her turn her vision into a reality.

In 2017, CeCe moved to St. Cloud and began speaking throughout the area. Her goal was not only to raise funds for Terebinth but also to raise awareness about sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. But there was still the issue of finding a location.

That’s where another miracle story came into play.  After a year of searching, the city of Waite Park bestowed on CeCe a gracious offer. For a few years, she could use a vacant house next to what is now The Ledge Amphitheater. In April of 2018, Terebinth Refuge, which was at that time over ten years in the making, officially opened its doors.

The statistics below in the infographic were all collected from the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center which is located in St. Cloud, MN. More information can be found here.

Terebinth Infographic by Felix Henning

The healing process at Terebinth Refuge uses an approach that is separated into four parts: Body, Mind, Soul, and Spirit. 

Healing in the body means being in a safe space physically, away from any threats of trafficking. 

As CeCe puts it, “If you’re scared and looking over your shoulder, you can’t really focus on your healing.” 

To provide this safe space, Terebinth has several security measures in place to protect the residents throughout the duration of their stay.  For example, there are cameras on campus that can take pictures of license plates, and a registered nurse is present two days a week to provide wellness checks for every resident.

The mind portion of this approach deals largely with mental health. Terebinth has a crisis counselor who is on-site three days a week to help residents deal with the trauma and anxiety that has been caused by sexual exploitation. Several group sessions are offered to give residents coping skills and tools to help aid them in their recovery process. Additionally, a few survivor advocates have been hired to give perspective to staff on how to best treat all residents in the program.

CeCe never forgot the power of horses that she saw at Heartland Ranch.  Terebinth, therefore, partners with Angel Reigns, a horse therapy program from St. Augusta.  The women, CeCe observed, were just as positively impacted by the horses as the young girls had been back at Heartland.

Soul healing at Terebinth means pursuing your individual skills and talents to add meaning and purpose to your life. Terebinth case managers help residents to further their education; they’ve helped residents get everything from cosmetology degrees to nursing assistant licenses, to high school diplomas.  If residents aren’t interested in receiving more education, career readiness is another path residents are able to take, with interactive classes that help them understand job etiquette and even build a résumé.

The last part of employment readiness training is Terebinth’s very own hope and healing store. Residents can work at the store, packaging and selling all-natural products such as bath bombs and soaps.

Last, but certainly not least, is the spirit facet of Terebinth.  CeCe explained that, although Terebinth is a Christian-based organization, they do not “force, coerce or require” residents to engage in any Christian programming. She wants to give residents the opportunity to discover faith, but they don’t require them to go to church. However, for those who have a faith relationship, there is a chaplain they can visit and a Bible study group once a week.

Terebinth Refuge is an impressive organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of women in the St. Cloud community.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking/exploitation, Terebinth Refuge is available to help.

  • Call or text the crisis line at 320-428-4707
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888 or text “Help” to BEFREE (233733)
  • Terebinth Refuge Office
  • The Hope & Healing Store
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About the Contributor
Felix Henning, Journalist
Grade: Senior Favorite Season: Autumn Favorite Drink Place: Vivi Bubble Tea Favorite Food: Dill Pickle Pasta Favorite Superhero: Deadpool