Love’s Arm: Hope and healing for the sexually enslaved
An organization engaged in transformative Christ-centered relationships with those in addiction-related prostitution and the sex industry.
In 2003, Mimi Nikkel was standing in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama sharing her story of redemption with a room full of female inmates.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and trafficking, as well as a recovery addict, Mimi could relate to the women standing in front of her, looking for hope. That was the day that solidified Mimi’s calling in life.
“When I looked in their faces, I fell in love. It was like looking in a mirror,” Mimi said.
In 2005, Mimi founded Love’s Arm in Chattanooga. Love’s Arm is an interdenominational outreach program that has assisted 70 survivors in recovery, healing and reconciliation to finding value and purpose in life.
As with many organizations, Love’s Arm didn’t start without its own set of hiccups.
“In all honesty, I made a lot of mistakes and learned from them,” Mimi said.
She attributes much of the organization’s initial success to connecting with other nonprofit leaders, listening to those in need, forming a board to support her efforts, lots of prayer and ultimately letting the program fall into place. She listened as women came to her needing help in their recovery and volunteers came to her with gifts they wanted to share.
One major tenant of Love’s Arm is that the organization meets people where they are instead of asking people to come to them. Volunteers from across Chattanooga and North Georgia build relationships on the streets and in strip clubs, jails and motels.
“The foundations of these relationships are unconditional love, intentional prayer and grace-filled wisdom. Relationships foster growth, trust and hope,” Mimi said.
Transition into recovery includes trauma informed holistic care, residential recovery, mental health services and healthcare services. Mimi and the team at Love’s Arm reach out to those they are serving by partnering with community organizations, churches and law enforcement offices.
Love’s Arm runs several programs that you can learn more about, but include the following:
Street Outreach — Volunteers head out onto the streets to engage with women in prostitution and provide them with love, support, as well as access to hygiene supplies, a resource list and prayer.
Strip Club Outreach — A group of volunteers, many of which once worked in a strip club, revisit the clubs to build relationships with the women there.
Ready Writers Team — These volunteers write letters to women that they have met that are now incarcerated. These letters provide hope and solace to inmates.
12 Step Recovery Group — This life recovery group meets weekly to walk through the steps of addiction recovery with a focus on scripture.
In 2018, Love’s Arm is doing more advocacy and community education with civic organizations, churches and law enforcement as well as establishing and implementing a 24-hour survivor helpline.
Mimi also has a vision to establish a men’s volunteer team as more men come forward wanting to serve.
Love’s Arm is faith-based, but does not discriminate based on religion or require religious participation to be part of their program. This can come with its own set of challenges.
“The idea that people in addiction-related prostitution ‘choose’ the lifestyle so they can ‘choose’ not to [have that lifestyle] is unfortunately prevalent in the thinking of many local churches,” Mimi said.
While this is far from the truth, Mimi said, it can often keep churches from opening their doors to Love’s Arm.
On the other side, they are often ignored as a valuable nonprofit because they are faith-based. However, they have been welcomed into partnership with civic organizations like the Chattanooga Mayor’s Council for Women, Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Mental Health Court that recognize what they do for the community.
“It is refreshing when we are received by our peers because we approach being ‘faith-based’ as welcoming all people into grace,” Mimi said.
The future is bright for Love’s Arm! In 2018, they will open the doors for Rahab’s Rest, a 24-month holistic recovery home for women exiting addiction-related prostitution in Chattanooga.
“We are so grateful for the support and encouragement of Thistle Farms in Nashville in sharing their resources and successful sustainable program model of holistic recovery and justice enterprising with us,” Mimi said.
Mimi shared her advice on starting your own organization or humanitarian effort.
“Go slow, be intentional and do your homework,” she said.
She also cautioned that if you do not feel called to pursue something, not to do it.
“Hurt people hurt people so make sure to deal with your own wounds and care for yourself well in the process of caring for others…this is the key to successfully carrying and fulfilling your mission,” Mimi said.
Make a Mark and Love’s Arm joined forces for the 2017 Chattanooga Make-a-Thon when Love’s Arm applied with a rebranding project.
Mimi kept hearing from board members and supporters that even after 12 years, no one was aware of their work in the community. When everyone met, the connection was immediate.
“We were all so like-minded in purpose and vision from the initial interview. The whole process just flowed like a river. It was really beautifully ordained,” Mimi said.
The Love’s Arm maker team, made up of Sabie Crowder, Josh Berquist and Sam Grandel, worked together to learn more about Mimi and the organization so they could translate their beautiful, yet outdated logo, into something modern and relatable, while still being true to their mission.
“As an organization our passion and purpose were invigorated by the rebrand,” Mimi said.
Following the work done at the event, as well as the training sessions offered by industry experts, received enough funding to surpass their budget by 65 percent. They also received plenty of design and technology advice to help them better tell their story.
Immediately following the event, Love’s Arm contracted one of their makers, Sabie Crowder, to assist in designing their new website in Squarespace, making it infinitely easier to update and manage.
They also contracted Josh Berquist, another maker on their team, for an updated brochure, speaking to the heart and soul of Love’s Arm.
“Anytime we have a design or social media plan we go to Sabie or Josh now. They are truly the best choices for us and share our passion for offering hope and healing persons in addiction-related prostitution and the sex industry. We consider them a part of our Love’s Arm family,” Mimi said.
Mimi remains motivated and inspired along her journey, relying on her faith and watching women as they move from a place of pain and suffering to a place of hope, where they feel valued and loved.