Located in Lancaster, Cherished High Desert is one of two organizations in Los Angeles County offering free housing and employment to women survivors of domestic commercialized sexual exploitation, human trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.
“Cherished started in 2011 as an outreach program, reaching out into clubs and late night massage parlors,” said Michelle Palmer, a volunteer marketing and donor relations manager for Cherished High Desert. “Each year we give out over 100 gifts to women in the clubs and massage parlors.”
Founded by human trafficking survivor Kate Wedell, the non-profit works with human trafficking survivors through community outreach, support groups, residential programs and employment.
“Our founder is a survivor herself and she has recently been trained as a trauma counselor,” Palmer said. “She moved her from Hollywood because she thought of it as a refuge.”
The organization also serves women in Santa Clarita who attend Cherished’s support groups or live in its residential housing and participate in its programs.
Through its residential housing program, women, 18 years and older, are given a place to live as they take part in support groups, group and individual counseling, life classes and art-based therapy. Women also participate in classes like yoga and ballet.
“It’s a free program and women are able to live in our housing for two years rent free,” Palmer said. “When they are part of our residential program we also help them gain employment so we are also a social enterprise.”
To become involved in the residential program, women attend the support group meetings before completing an application and taking a drug test. If they fail the drug test, they are asked to go into treatment before becoming involved with the residential program.
“We are here for women who want to be on this journey,” Palmer said. “No one currently in our program is court appointed.”
Palmer said Cherished has made a significant difference in the lives of women who participate in its programs. One woman who is about to graduate from Cherished’s two-year residential program said it gave her joy and hope.
“She is in her mid-40s,” Palmer said. “She did not finish high school, but now she is doing adult education school and working on her high school diploma and she is reunited with her family.”
In in order to support its programs and human trafficking survivors, Cherished High Desert hosts an annual gala that includes a red carpet, silent auction, art exhibit, gala and after party at Zelda’s.
This year’s gala, “A Night of Jazz, Comedy and Story” on May 19, will feature comedian Don Friesen from “Comics Unleased” and “Showtime” and Grammy Award Winner Scott Martin’s Latin Soul Jazz band.
“Kate relaxes by listening to comedy and one of her favorite comedians is Don Friesen and she reached out to him by Facebook and asked him if he’d be willing out and do our gala,” Palmer said.
The gala’s art exhibit will include artwork from human trafficking survivors from Cherished High Desert and the L.A. area.
“The art exhibit really is an amazing exhibit because you use the QR code and put on headphones and hear the stories of 12 different survivors,” Palmer said. “After the gala, it’s going to the Mexican consultant.”
Cherished High Desert will also be honoring detectives from the Los Angeles County Human Trafficking Bureau who serve the county and Santa Clarita.
In total, the organization hopes to have 300 to 400 people at the third annual event.
Tickets for the Cherished High Desert’s “A Night of Jazz, Comedy and Story” gala are $35 and are available at www.cherishedhighdesert.com/gala. The event will begin at 6 p.m. on May 19 at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center.
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