Questions like “I have a crush on this guy, do you think he likes me?” or “How do I join a soccer league?” may not be the questions you would expect clients to ask immigration attorney Lauren Blodgett. But she’s heard them often.
Blodgett represents young survivors of gender-based violence who seek asylum in the U.S after fleeing sexual abuse, child labor, prostitution and “girlfriend” recruitment from gangs. And in June, she launched Brave House, a Prospect Heights-based nonprofit that provides legal support and holistic services for immigrant girls.
“It got to this point where a light bulb went off, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m one of the only adults they know in this country.’” said Blodgett. “A lot of them were unaccompanied minors.”
While she was an attorney for Safe Passage Project, a nonprofit providing legal immigration services, she realized these girls were often isolated, processing trauma, sleeping on couches and struggling to connect with others at school.
Brave House is entirely crowd-funded and volunteer-ran, with the exception of Blodgett, the only full-time staff.
It’s still in its fledgling stages. The organization’s holistic activities range from writing and collaging to yoga, kickboxing and improv classes. Blodgett hosts a gathering for the girls twice a week and plans to expand to five days a week, Monday through Friday during after-school hours.
“One of the best things I’ve seen is the girls come every time. Seeing that consistency is amazing,” said Blodgett. “Now, they hang out outside the group.”
One evening, a Brave House girl came to a meeting bruised after she got in a fight at school. “Some of the girls were like, ‘Listen to this, I was bullied this time last year. It’s going to get better,’” said Blodgett. “There’s peer mentorship happening within the group.”
Loretta Lopez, a case manager at Sanctuary for Families and Columbia graduate student, volunteers for Brave House and serves as a board member.
“It’s important to have trauma-informed spaces where the girls feel like they can be themselves, can speak their language, make mistakes, practice their new language and build community,” said Lopez.
Lopez plans to teach yoga to Brave House girls so they can use it as a tool for self-care. She admires Blodgett for the work she’s put into the non-profit.
“Lauren is doing something that is really difficult to do and very necessary,” she said.
Blodgett’s long-term goal is to turn Brave House into a shelter. By the end of the year, she hopes to raise enough money to rent a small space for the nonprofit in the Prospect Heights area, where she lives.
To learn more about Brave House, go here.