Transformed by mission work in India’s largest red-light district, Kristin Keen believes that self-reliance, not charity, will help survivors of human trafficking make the journey from exploitation to freedom. Keen, who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, had always thought she would attend graduate school, get married and have children.
“This was never my plan,” she says.
But she had a spiritual epiphany in college and a change of heart after connecting with Word Made Flesh. The faith-based program helps impoverished communities around the world, particularly women and children who have been caught up in human trafficking.
Keen joined a four-month mission trip to India, which wrapped up in Kolkota’s red-light district where hundreds of multi-story brothels house roughly 13,000 oppressed women.
“Needless to say, it transformed my life,” says Keen, who was 27 years old at the time. “It humbled me. It broke me.”
Drawn to the work, Keen stayed in India another five years after the project ended. In 2006, she and her colleagues founded Sari Bari, which makes handmade products from recycled cotton saris to help women break free from human trafficking trade.
A few years later, Keen returned to Jacksonville, where she discovered a thriving human trafficking trade and formed relationships with oppressed women on Philips Highway and in prison.
A wall display of the scarves in their range of colors.
Kristin Keen, the founder and president of Rethreaded holds examples of dog toys for sale at her showroom and workshop.
Although it may not be visible, human trafficking exists everywhere, she says. “It’s the same thing [as in India], just disguised differently.”
Based on concepts like Sari Bari, she founded Rethreaded in 2011. The nonprofit hired its first employee in 2012. The following year, Rethreaded won the One Spark grand prize, which was a “real game changer,” Keen says.
Her nonprofit, Rethreaded, provides job training and viable work for women coming out of oppression and human trafficking. Based on a model of social entrepreneurship, its retail sales of hand-made accessories and home goods provides job skills in the areas of administration, sales, marketing and production.
“We’re using business to change lives,” Keen says of the organization housed at 820 Barnett St. “It’s the sales that create work.”
Rethreaded now employs a dozen women. Presently, it generates about 60 percent of its revenue from sales and 40 percent from donations. Because it focuses only on job training, it partners with Her Song for mental health and addiction services, and Gateway Community Services for housing.
The women must have six months of sobriety and stability before they start their first three months of job training, at $8.25 an hour. Volunteers teach them to sew, and the women take a skills assessment test to help them choose which area of work suits them best.
An extrovert with extraordinary energy, Keen will soon turn 40. In her spare time she does power yoga, swims in the ocean several times a week with Duval Ocean Swimmers and recently participated in Bike MS, a two-day fundraising cycling event from TPC Sawgrass to Daytona Beach and back.
But her greatest thrill comes from watching former oppressed women make the transformation.
“You watch this woman come alive, and learn who she is and just rock it,” Keen says.
For more info and to do a little holiday shopping visit rethreaded.com
Kristin Keen, the founder and president of Rethreaded in her office.
Survivor made coffee sold in Rethreaded’s showroom packaged in “up cycled” t-shirt bags, hand decorated with a woodblock stamp.