It was a typical Thursday night at Club 22, a popular strip joint in Harrisburg, Pa. The lights were dimmed, frequent customers were in their favorite seats, and dancers took the stage to perform. In addition to the expected crowd, the “church ladies” had just arrived, right on schedule with trays of homemade food.
Dubbed the “church ladies” by those they served, this team of women were with Peace Promise, a nonprofit based in Mechanicsburg, Pa. that works to liberate women working in the sex industry. Executive director Patty Seaman led a team of volunteers every Thursday night that served meals and spent time with the women working at the club.
One woman in particular, Laura, captured Patty’s attention. Laura had a tough-girl approach to life and was hostile to say the least. Her demeanor let everyone know that she would win a fight if you dared to pick one. With emotional walls around her, Patty struggled to connect. But when she learned Laura had a nut allergy, she viewed it as an opportunity to make a personal connection.
Each week moving forward, Patty made sure a nut-free dessert was made especially for Laura. She delivered it directly to her dressing table and simply left it for her when Laura didn’t want to engage. Patty continued doing this for several years, praying the steadfast thoughtfulness would help lower her defenses.
Peace Promise’s ministry starts by building relationships with women in the sex industry and providing spiritual and financial support along the way. The ultimate hope is that they trust the organization enough to walk alongside them when they decide to leave the industry. Providing thoughtful meals gives Peace Promise a chance to make connections quickly and build potentially life-changing relationships.
While seemingly insignificant, the consistent kindness of a nut-free dessert helped Laura lower her defenses just enough to start building a relationship with Patty. Over time and through many conversations, Patty learned her story.
Following in the footsteps of her absent mother, Laura became a stripper and prostitute and never finished high school. Her emotional walls and tough-girl attitude were defense mechanisms to keep out the harsh world around her.
Building Trust in Tragedy
Laura maintained strong emotional walls as Peace Promise sought to minister to her. She battled a heroin addiction and later was jailed on prostitution charges. Shortly after she was released from prison in 2017, tragedy struck her family. Her two sisters – who she lived with at the time – were murdered in their home. Laura was the one who found them.
Traumatized and terrified, she endured an in-depth interview with the police who only permitted either a legal or spiritual council to be with her for support. She couldn’t think of anyone else to call besides Patty.
Patty was there right away and stayed by her side through the entire process. She mobilized the Peace Promise network to orchestrate a prayer vigil at the site of the murders and organized the memorial services for her sisters. The funeral lunch was even made by the same people who prepared her Thursday night dinners years before.
Saved and Thriving
The care and support that Laura received at this time cemented her bond with Patty. Fueled by her sisters’ deaths and the Peace Promise support network, Laura became determined to leave stripping, prostitution and substance abuse behind. Daily check-ins with Patty were vital during this time of transition and helped her maintain sobriety.
She started working at a restaurant and quickly rose to an assistant management position. In 2019, she gave birth to a baby boy with Patty in the delivery room. Later that year she met a wonderfully loving man who would become her fiancé. Most excitingly, she gave her life to the Lord and began walking out her faith with Patty as a spiritual mentor.
COVID-19 greatly impacted both her and her fiancé’s jobs and prompted their move to Texas to be closer to his family. Today, Laura is thriving and working to accomplish her goals of getting her driver’s license and GED. She and her fiancé are planning their wedding and will soon welcome a new baby to the family. Despite the physical distance between them, Patty continues to support Laura and is currently guiding her and her fiancé through pre-marital counseling.
Through the dedicated work of Peace Promise, God has transformed Laura’s life and the lives of many women like her. The “church ladies” continue their work in Central Pennsylvania and have seen the landscape of the sex industry slowly change. Years after serving their first meal at Club 22, Patty was there when it permanently closed its doors in the summer of 2020.
*Some names in this story have been changed for privacy.