UPDATE after CNN Heroes: All Star Tribute on December 9 – Susan commented, “The CNN Heroes Award Ceremony and all that led up to it were absolutely fabulous! It was a whirlwind weekend with incredible people and while I didn’t win Hero of the Year, I’m proud to represent GenerateHope as one of the Top Ten CNN Heroes for 2019!”
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some wear capes and others become default heroes based on past experiences as they create an amazing path to helping others. One such hero is Susan Munsey, who is being honored as a CNN Hero for her groundbreaking work in starting GenerateHope.
CNN Heroes are everyday people who are changing the world, and Susan was one of thousands of people nominated for this international award. CNN then narrowed the field down to 26 candidates, and then they spent two days filming and another day for photoshoots with Susan and GenerateHope. Susan made the cut when CNN chose the top 10 and then opened voting to the public to decide who would be the top winner, receiving $100,000 and a capacity-building training contract from the Annenberg Foundation. See all of the amazing nominees on CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute, to be televised this Sunday, December 9, at 8 p.m. ET, hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Kelly Ripka. In the promo video below, Susan is featured at the 1:00 mark:
The part of Susan’s life story that led her to create GenerateHope started when she was just 16 years old and had started dating an older man. He was charming and gave her compliments, boosting her self-esteem. Unfortunately, things changed drastically when he started abusing her and forced her to sell her body. After she was arrested for prostitution, she was able to escape her situation and move on with her life. Fast forward thirty years, and she really hadn’t shared that part of her story with anyone other than her therapist, afraid she would be judged.
In 2007, she was seeking a new church and found Harbor City Church in San Diego. She wanted to get involved and was pleased to see that they had a variety of ministries from which to choose. She saw one for sex trafficked women and felt called to help get this ministry rolling. While having coffee with the wife of one of the ministry leaders, she opened up about her past and said that she could relate and help these women. Susan laughs as she remembers the lady exclaiming, “That great! Oh no, not that that happened to you, but that you have experience to help us with this.” She and her group met in her house for several years and completed intensive training with Servants Anonymous, Missey in San Francisco and Gems in New York.
In 2009, with just three months’ rent in their account, she rented a five-bedroom home in La Mesa and got donations to furnish and outfit the entire home. Shortly thereafter, six women moved in and started the program with two house moms to watch over them. Susan networked throughout San Diego County and received referrals from law enforcement and others. Surprising to many, sex trafficking is a big problem in San Diego. Statistics provided from the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene show that there are between 8,830 and 11,773 victims/survivors here in San Diego, accounting for San Diego’s second largest underground economy, after drug trafficking, generating an estimated $810 million in annual revenue. Tragically, much of the recruitment takes place on high school campuses and via the internet, and pimps/sex traffickers earn an average of $50,000 month and sometimes more than $600,000 annually.
Just one year later, Susan heard about a foreclosure on what used to be a boys’ orphanage. She took a look and came in contact with a businessmen’s group that was interested in buying it to use for a ministry. The two teamed up and GenerateHope was officially up and running. 300 volunteers helped refurbish the house, doing everything from refinishing floors, cleaning the pool, painting, and updating the plumbing and electrical systems. At this point, they were able to offer a full-day program, providing academic classes, group and individual psychotherapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which helps decrease emotion for traumatic memories. Adjunct therapies including art, yoga, dance and photography are also offered. Many of the girls finish their high school requirements and go on to college. Just one year after opening in their new location, Susan helped orchestrate buying the property for GenerateHope through grants, donations and crowdfunding.
GenerateHope is a non-denominational, faith-based program and helps women as young as 20 and up to age 50 deal with low self-worth, anxiety, trauma, and a host of other physical and spiritual needs resulting from sex trafficking. A staff of part-time and full-time workers, from teachers to grant writers, help with the program. The women are allowed to stay in this program for up to two years, then they can transition to Coronado’s GenerateHope home for up to one year. This home also accommodates six woman and two resident guides. In this transitional house, they are ready to be more independent, they can continue going to college and even get part-time jobs.
Susan’s faith is strong and is evidenced in how God has led her to the right people and places at just the perfect time to make GenerateHope a reality. “I go one step at a time and don’t set 10-year goals. I let God lead me, she comments when asked if she wants to take GenerateHope national. Based on her own experiences as a psychotherapist and being sex trafficked at a young age, she truly understands the damage that this does to kids and adults. “I wish I wouldn’t have been trafficked, but if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here, and I love what I’m doing.” She is truly making a difference and has brought hope to more than 100 women and girls.
Susan is among distinguished company with the other top 10 CNN Heroes, each of whom receive $10,000: Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin from Pearls Africa Foundation, Maria Rose Belding from MEANS, Amanda Boxtel from Bridging Bionics, Rob Gore from Kings Against Violence Initiative, Luke Mickelson from Sleep in Heavenly Peace, Florence Phillips from ESL: In-home Program of North Nevada, Ricardo Pun-Chong from Inspira, Ellen Stackable from Poetic Justice, and Chris Stout from Veteran’s Community Project.
Win or lose, Susan and GenerateHope are winners.
You can get involved by giving a donation, which will be matched by Subaru, a longtime sponsor and supporter of CNN Heroes, to all this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes, beginning at the start of the Tribute Show, on Sunday, December 9 and running through January 2, 2019. This is part of Subaru’s “Share the Love” campaign, and they will match, dollar-for-dollar, donations up to $50,000. The match counts for individual donations up to $5,000. All eligible matching donations must be made through the Crowdrise account at CNNHeroes.com.