The faith-based group, Cherished, VA operates on the belief that every woman is special and loved. Given that mission, the women in this non-profit ministry are dedicated to helping those involved in the sex industry, offering value, hope, and a way out.
"Once you are in the sex industry, you don't receive a lot of respect from other people, Carlie Gabbert of Cherished, VA told CBN News. "Whether that be your clients, your managers, or even your co-workers."
Nearly twelve years ago, Gabbert felt the call to help women dancing in strip clubs.
"One day I was driving down the interstate on an overnight trip. We drove past a strip club. You know my first thought was to look away, and God really just kind of said, 'Why don't you minister to those ladies instead of looking away from them'," explained Gabbert.
Two years later, Gabbert heard that a ministry called Established Footsteps in Hampton, Va. had launched the Cherished outreach. The ministry focuses on making friendships with women who perform in strip clubs. She found many of them are there just to make ends meet.
"A lot of times they're in school to become a police officer, a nurse or a doctor," said Gabbert. "A lot of them have a second job as an insurance rep or as a nurse's aid or dental assistant or they work in a restaurant. You can make some pretty quick money."
"I was desperate," a woman name Alynna told CBN News. "My savings had run out, had nobody to help me. I didn't know anybody here."
Once a month Gabbert and a team of volunteers visit these dancing and strip clubs armed with love and gifts for the women.
"We go into the club, we have these little pink bags and sometimes the ladies will say, 'Oh the pink bag ladies are here," explained Gabbert. "And so, we go in, and they just have small gifts in them like a lipstick or a nail polish, something like that. We do have our contact card, it says 'loved, valued, cherished'. On the back, it says, 'Do you need a friend?' And so, they can contact us on a phone number or website."
They also give the women notes of encouragement, countering what many in this industry receive.
"Beforehand, we just write notes, and the Lord prompts us to put a scripture, or a specific prayer and that note is what has really been really wonderful in our outreaches. Oftentimes the ladies will pull it out and they'll say, 'How did you know I needed this right now?'" Gabbert explained.
Prayer also plays a big part in the outreach.
"We can actually circle up inside of the club like right there in the middle of the club and pray in a circle and everyone will pray and then we hug," said Gabbert. "It's just amazing. It's like kicking Satan in the face which is wonderful to me."
It's all about transforming lives in the process.
"We have had ladies leave," said Gabbert. "We have had ladies come to church regularly. We have had ladies kind of recommit their lives to Christ."
Alynna, a rape survivor, grew up attending a Christian school. She encountered the ministry while trying to get work at a strip club. Instead of a dancing job, she received an unexpected blessing from a volunteer from Cherished.
"I was just quoting scripture," Alynna told CBN News. "We were quoting scripture back and forth and she was like, 'You know the word.' I said, 'You know what, it was in me.'"
Now working as an interpreter at a vaccine location, Alynna credits Cherished, other ministries, and her church with helping her find peace and wholeness through God.
"My spiritual level has grown and grown and grown, and thanks to God's grace that is keeping me, even the times I never even acknowledged him," said Alynna.
She now offers hope to others in the sex industry.
"There's a way out and God will do it for you, 'cause he did it for me. Look at me. I'm here. I'm alive. And we're here to help everybody else to survive," Alynna said.
While the pandemic's impact has led to more women seeking work inside strip clubs, Gabbert sees it as a mixed blessing and an opportunity to help more women like Alynna.
She explained, "A lot more people are in need of extra money, so, on the one hand, we've seen new ladies dancing, on the other hand, there are less customers because the customers are trying to save their money, and also with restrictions on capacity in the clubs as well."
Gabbert explained that in the end, it all leads to the goal of helping more women find the healing that only God can provide.
"Really, it's just the Holy Spirit. We're just willing and the Lord uses us and He's the one that actually does that work in there," Gabbert explained.