Melinda Taylor has been a trailblazer her entire life. Her drive, passion, and purpose to help women victimized by domestic violence, sex trafficking the slave trade was born from her own story. Melinda enjoyed a successful career in the beauty industry at an executive level. She ran businesses at a global and national level that catapulted her passion and vision for Bloomhere. After a successful career, she had a burden for abused women because she was living in an abusive relationship and yet succeeding at the highest level of the beauty industry.
Melinda, what happened that turned the corner for you?
I was in my late 20’s flourishing professionally, but the abusive relationship was getting worse. I knew I needed to get help and went to a therapist and realized something was wrong. So I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and continued to get my life in order through therapy, yoga, and many things that helped me heal in a beautiful way. I had a home I could come home to every night and sleep in a bed and was able to heal because I had had all the tools I needed to recover and heal.
But that made you think about women who are struggling and don’t have the means?
Yes, during that time I’m thinking about how are women on the street healing? What does this look like for them? I remember, I was on a plane and wrote in my journal “Bloomhere” and I knew! At 40, I met the love of my life and it changed my life. I met Jonathan and he met a woman who was a professional who had her own home, paid her own bills, and made six figures. It was so good for us and falling in love and all that comes with it.
And you made a change, didn’t you?
Yes, I started standing down in my role professionally and stepping down as Vice President, and taking a smaller territory. During that time I was thinking about what I could do and started volunteering to see what women on the street were experiencing and what was going on with them. I would ask them about their stories and learn how they were able to make more money through the sex trade to provide for their kids and life. I visited women’s shelters and began to learn that these women have no money and we have a broken system. No matter how much we were helping these women we were only giving them what they need and we were not giving them the tools and space to heal. We have generational scarring of women whose mothers were all abused and so for us to gradually get to the source we have to go to the source, which is really hard to do.
What was the next step?
I discovered that these women need a home, a safe place to stay. They need a place to stay and not be raped, attacked, or stealing their stuff on the street. So during this time, I went on a yoga retreat and it came to me that these women needed shelter and a house. During this time it was made aware to me that I was the victim of abuse as a child and I was molested by family members, but I had the tools to move through it. After the retreat, I just knew it was time and what my purpose was.
What did that mean realization mean for you personally?
I knew I was going to have to quit my job, tell my partner, sell my house and take out my 401K and start a non-profit to help these women. And we did it!
How did it begin?
I started meeting people and I met seven women by chance one day while volunteering and became friends with them and within six months they gave the money for me to start Bloomhere. They literally wrote me a check and said start it.
What is the mission of Bloom Here?
We take women who have been abused, addicted, and trafficked and give rent, dental, medical, and mental free for two years. Two years is enough time for your body to reset and your emotional state to reset so you can have a chance to learn a different way of life. Their program is broken into four quarters.
Describe those four quarters, please?
It is a very structured program. The women come in and for the first 90 days, they are learning how to care for themselves again because when they are living on the street is lost upon them. They don’t know how to take care of themselves at that point because they are constantly worrying about how they are going to get money living on the streets. The house is self-governed. They are in charge of cleaning, and meals. They have to attend intensive outpatient therapy and their days are full of regulated activities and intentional recovery.
Tell us how you came about producing the body oils, scents, and products?
As I was building this non-profit I began to think about how we are going to sustain this non-profit over the years. Fundraising is hard to do while you are running a non-profit and trying to run a business and being the executive director. I also wanted the women to learn a trade skill and how to work in an environment and for it to be something beautiful, but I also knew body oils from my professional background and how that could be a great product for the women to reconnect with their body, smell and make a living wage at $15 per hour.
Why body oils?
Women on the street have one thing they need. People are always offering things for them to carry from shelters, but the one thing they all agree upon is scented body oils so they can moisturize their skin.
So when do these women work and produce the product for sale?
We have found through trial and error that these women are ready to work after the first 90 days. They will come in and make the oils in the house and they work a minimum of 15 hours per week. Many of them are still recovering, healing, and learning. We adjust to every woman that comes in depending upon their background, story, and circumstances.
How many women are in the program and what is the maximum?
Right now we have four in the program and we are getting another house coming online soon so we will have eight in the program. Our goal is to have 24 women in the program and the bigger goal is to have a shared house with a teaching kitchen and then build tiny houses around this main house.
What’s the key ingredient for success?
What’s missing with these women is a sense of community. We are trying to rebuild here is relationships with women and them trying to rebuild their own sense of community. The big goal is to have these women run the community. To run the body oils, the house, to be on the board. This is not mine, this is for them!
Tell us how the graduates relate to the newbies?
The graduates stay with us for two years because they deal with transitional housing. They are responsible for a certain amount of volunteer hours to mentoring the newbies, them with bus routes, jobs, cell phones, health care, etc. We are building a community of empowering women to encourage one another with dignity and using tools to help them to where they need to be.
How can people help Bloom Here?
First of all, making a financial commitment and contribution is the best way to help because no matter where you are in the U.S. we are only one of 50 houses in the U.S. doing this. So there is a network of us helping women across the country move away from their abuser, or trafficker. So you know no matter where you are you are supporting women across the U.S. to break free and heal. When you give to us that gives the ability to help women in Raleigh but you have helped women across 25 states move away from their abuser or trafficker. We have a network.
Melinda, describe the enormity of sex trafficking and domestic violence in America
Sex trafficking is the number one money-maker in the world. It makes more money than NFL Football, and Raleigh-Durham is ranked sixth in sex trafficking due to its access to I-95 and I-85. Sex trafficking is something most people don’t understand, yes, it’s women from Haiti, children, but also what happens it’s just like prostitution, no woman wants a man to tell her like a pimp to tell her what to do with her body. And the runaways are snatched up and trafficked. We deal with a society where people say a woman could’ve left her abuser and it’s her fault and she could have left. No one knows their story. People typically blame the woman and no one knows the woman’s or child’s story. No one chooses this kind of life to be a stripper or prostitute. It is a generational cycle that we are trying to break.
What About the Men Ensared in this Cycle of Dysfunction?
This is a very hard one for me, but we are even starting to deal with the men who are trafficking the women. Something happened to them and that’s where this is all this grace you have to find in your soul, which breaks you. Yet, you have to realize that generationally something happened to this man that within his soul it’s okay to sell a woman. And that’s a hard place to come too. Many of these men were abused as children and are simply repeating a cycle of generational behavior. This is so prevalent in society and culture.
Jonathan, why Is this cause so important to Wolk360?
This is so systemic within society and we had no concept that people would treat other people this way. It became clear to us as a company that we could provide some support and increase awareness that this is out there and it’s real. It is inherent upon companies and organizations to help people understand how prevalent this is and how we can help as a corporate community to arrest it in tangible ways.
So here is a product, body oils that you can buy that support a product that is doing good and making a difference in the lives of people and the redemption of society and people. Why wouldn’t you invest in something like this?
We are an architecture, real estate, and construction company but we want to help these women run companies. Whether you are a pharmaceutical company, attorney, tax firm, research firm, or whatever you do we need to join together to rise above it and help these women in need.
Wolk360 in Raleigh, North Carolina, is an innovative and creative buy-design-build firm specializing in helping clients create the perfect home. The firm is unique in that it has a multi-disciplinary team of designers, architects, builders, and real estate agents, so clients do not have to deal with multiple players when pursuing their dream. From acquisition, planning, development, demolition, and build they serve residential and commercial clients with high-quality start to finish custom projects. Wolk360 is engaged in ongoing community support for non-profit organizations and helping to improve the quality of life in the Raleigh-Durham area and beyond.