Trees of Hope

Trees of Hope15 years ago, local woman Dee Proietto had an awakening. Although she had come to Christ years earlier and was even serving in ministry, Proietto had deep wounds from sexual abuse she experienced as a child; wounds that had yet to be healed. She shares, “I didn’t realize how deeply the hurt from my past was still affecting me.” Proietto began an intense search for a Bible-based resource she could turn to in order to find healing from the wounds of her past but found nothing. She continues, “My journey of healing started off with just me and God. He told me that he was going to heal me and he showed me that he was going to use the pain of my past to help others.”

At the time, Proietto was working for His Caring Place (HCP), a ministry of 4KIDS of South Florida that provides homes for pregnant teen girls. As Proietto began to have conversations with the residents of HCP, she found that nearly every girl she spoke with was a victim of sexual abuse herself. Proietto was deeply burdened, and felt led to begin a small group Bible study to help the HCP girls – and ultimately herself – find healing and wholeness in the arms of Jesus.

A vision is born
Over time, word got out about the ministry Proietto was doing, and other staff women at 4KIDS began to open up about their own horror stories of sexual abuse and need for healing. In 2008, Proietto clearly knew that God was calling her to something bigger, and stepped out in faith to start Trees of Hope, a ministry committed to healing the wounds of sexual abuse and equipping communities to safeguard their children. The ministry’s name comes from Isaiah 61:3, which says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”

Trees of Hope is a multi-faceted ministry focused on healing through intimate small groups, prevention through workshops and education, and outreach through raising community awareness and connecting abuse victims to the resources and counseling they need. What started five years ago as just Proietto and one other woman has now grown to what she describes as “an army” of 45 committed volunteers who are dedicated to leading men, women and children along a path of healing from the deep wounds caused by past sexual abuse.

Healing the past
The core component of Trees of Hope’s ministry consists of small group studies designed to take victims of past sexual abuse on a journey from victim to survivor to “thriver.” Each 12-week study is led by a survivor of sexual abuse who has gone through the study herself, as the ministry realizes that it is nearly impossible for a victim to open up to someone who has not been a victim themselves. Proietto shares, “The number one area damaged by sexual abuse is trust. As such, all of our groups are survivor led, and are held in a home setting that is a safe, soul-connecting environment. We share our stories, grieve together and shed many tears along the way. Jesus got ‘in the pain’ with people, and that’s what we strive to do as well.”

Protecting the future
Prevention is another vital component of Trees of Hope’s ministry efforts. The statistics are staggering: one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach their 18th birthday. In 80 percent of these cases, the abuse is perpetrated by somebody that the child knows. While the research shows that sexual abuse is a true global epidemic, the good news is that prevention is possible. Trees of Hope takes every opportunity possible to lead prevention efforts – through workshops, seminars and training – right here in South Florida.

Proietto shares, “The beautiful thing about prevention is that it applies to everyone across the board, not just to Christians. The key is to teach each and every child that they have a voice, and that they have the right to say ‘No!’” Proietto advises parents to teach children the correct names for the sexual anatomy early on; talk about who is and is not allowed to touch their private areas. A knowledgeable child who is able to articulate what is, and is not acceptable, stands at an exponentially lower risk of being abused than a child who is not equipped.

Helping and healing
Trees of Hope is always in search of others in the community who can catch the vision and get involved in their ministry of healing and reconciliation. Available opportunities include prayer support, financial donations, sponsoring or hosting a prevention workshop, becoming a small group facilitator and assisting with the ministry’s special events.

Or, if you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, Trees of Hope exists to provide you or your loved one with healing, wholeness and hope. Many of the ministry’s small groups take place in the Trees of Hope house, which is on the property of Rio Vista Community Church in Fort Lauderdale, but there are a total of 11 small groups – including one just for adult men and one just for teen girls (called BLOOM) – that meet throughout South Florida.

As Proietto will tell you, the wounds of abuse affect victims deeply – usually without them even knowing – throughout their entire lives until they walk through a journey of healing. Perhaps it is time to allow someone who has been there to take you by the hand and lead you out of your pain.

For more information on Trees of Hope, visit treesofhope.org, call 954-522-9415 or e-mail Dee Proietto at [email protected]

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