Giving hope: MBA grad's non-profit aids human trafficking victims
Leah Cordy, ’20 and ’21, always thought that one day, she might launch a non-profit. She just had no idea she’d do it at age 22.
Five months ago, Leah created Hope’s Landing, a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers local survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. Hope’s Landing is a partner organization of Sisters in Shelter (SIS), a local organization that promotes community awareness and provides critical first needs of women survivors such as emergency safe housing, medical care, safety planning and legal advocacy. It’s an organization with which she’s very familiar.
Leah’s story has multiple layers that seemingly have fit together like a perfect puzzle.
Heidelberg … where it all began
As an undergrad, Leah double majored in international studies and political science through Heidelberg’s Honors Program. With a strong interest in human rights, she attended her first-ever HYPE Career Ready® session by Sisters in Shelter.
“I didn’t realize how close to home human trafficking really was, and I got so angry. ‘Why am I just now hearing about this? Something has to be done,’” she thought. So while she moved along her undergraduate experience – which also included an internship with Sisters in Shelter – she also spent a lot of time researching the issue.
Leah knew when she arrived on campus that she wanted to study abroad, not once but twice. She spent a summer in Heidelberg, Germany and then headed to South Africa. Fast forward to graduation with her MBA in May, and her plan was to move to Europe to study international relations and political science.
But the universe sometimes has a way of putting you in a place where you’re needed in the moment.
Leah’s semester-long internship with SIS that began in January 2020 turned into full-time employment. “I got really lucky that they created a position for me,” she says.
Leah’s position as the community outreach advisor really is a catch-all. She’s responsible for all marketing, outreach activities, community education and awareness programming, and even has done grant writing, fundraising and event planning – “anything to educate people about human trafficking and domestic violence.”
“I have learned so much from this opportunity … more empathy, more understanding when dealing with our survivors,” she says. Not to mention, “how to deal with crazy situations” – all valuable skills applicable to real life.
A job becomes a passion
Leah quickly came to understand that the best way to help SIS clients break the cycle and learn independence is through meaningful employment.
“I saw women as they would complete the Sisters in Shelter residential healing program, who wanted to get a job and couldn’t because of mental health issues or physical issues or drug charges. I remember thinking, ‘That’s just not fair.’”
So she sprung into action, and after six months, Hope’s Landing has exceeded all expectations.
Hope’s Landing is staffed completely by SIS survivors who have graduated from the recovery program. They make and sell products such as seasonal candles and bath and body items, and will soon add hand-made jewelry to their collection. Profits are returned to the organization to fund survivors’ wages, but there’s additional value in the experience.
“This really is a stepping stone to the rest of their lives,” explains Leah, the founder and executive director of Hope’s Landing. “We see the clients do so well in the Sisters in Shelter program, so this is a way to ensure they keep making progress after they have graduated from the safe house.” As Hope’s Landing employees, the women learn to get on a schedule, how to save money and plan for their next job, all under an empowering support system.
“So far, we’ve had a ton of success. We really went out on a limb to start this, but the community has really embraced and supported it.”
Currently, Hope’s Landing products are sold at local farmer’s markets and online. A number of local and regional wholesale retailers – such as Washington Street Outfitters in Tiffin – also carry the products. Their hope is to one day have their own store front, maybe even open a café.
No-go without PlusOne
Leah is eternally grateful for the PlusOneAdvantage® MBA program, which she was completing simultaneously to launching Hope’s Landing. The program and her professors and classmates were great resources.
“(Hope’s Landing) was almost like a case study,” she says. “I’m super, super thankful to my professors for their guidance. They were accessible any time. They really wanted to see this succeed.
“Truly, I would not have been able to do this without my MBA.”
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Leah has always been one to dream big. For now, she’s content. “If I can get just one woman to feel that sense of independence, that is reward enough for me,” she says.