“buy coffee. not girls”
I'm the kind of person you see in the coffee shop on his laptop typing away and, love me or hate me, I adore a good coffee shop. While spending two weeks of my summer in the Wisconsin Dells, or Wis Dells for short, Bella Goose came highly recommend. In between trying out the countless summer tourist attractions available in the Dells, I would go to Bella Goose, get an iced latè open my laptop and enjoy a few hours to myself; writing things like this. In fact, I began writing this while sipping on a condensation covered cup of cold coffee.
It doesn’t strike you as immediately different from any other modern coffee joint. The walls are cracked white with a map of the world painted on in black. Steel piping is used to support shelves and lamps giving it a steampunk feel. The mix of stained and unstained imperfectly angular wood on the counter finishes the look off with hipster flair. However, this is a place with a difference. Their mission is to employ, train, equip, and empower women in the coffee industry who have been set free from human trafficking and sex slavery.
Jay Heesch is the senior pastor of Bridgepoint Mission, the mission center behind Bella Goose. He’s also the shops Senior Overseer: "In 2012, my wife and I were coaching a World Race Squad from Adventures In Mission, in Bangkok, Thailand. While in Bangkok a local missions organization gave us a tour of the city and that led us to the sex slave trade road for the first time.”
What Jay and his wife witnessed led them to encouraging others at their mission back in Wisconsin to travel to sex trafficking roads in Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines in efforts to partner with other rescue organizations trying to bring girls out of sex slavery and into safe houses.
Jay told me about one experience he had while he visiting Bangla Road, one of the sex slave roads in Southern Thailand: “I witnessed an American man in his 50’s force the hand of a girl who was the same age of my grandaughter down his pants.”
Bangala Road is in a town called Patong on the west coast of Phuket, it’s a party street that's lined with clubs. It comes highly recommended by many travel sites which makes it difficult to comprehend just how much sex slavery goes on in a place favored by western tourists.
"I have looked into the eyes of hundreds of girls exploited for sex on roads where there was no hope. We have talked with hundreds of those girls and asked them, 'If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?'
"Tour guide, mother, wife, restaurant owner and go to college” were some of the responses, but most just stared back"
Once the girls had been rescued, Jay and his team became aware of a heartbreaking problem: "The girls rescued out of sex slavery did not have sustainable job skills that provided a financial future for them and their families.”
As luck would have it, in the spring of 2014 a space at the StandRock Mall in the Wisconsin Dells became available to lease. The mission did so and created Bella Goose Coffee.
But of all the potential ventures to help train and develop people's skills, you might ask, why a craft coffee house?
"In the sex slave roads of South East Asia, we would make coffee dates with girls interested in being rescued and present a plan of leaving the road and going to a safe house.”
The coffee huts are common along these roads and are seen as places of community and safety, that’s what Jay wanted for Bella Goose: “Our motivation to create a place of belonging by selecting, preparing, and sharing premium coffee to transform communities became a reality in Wisconsin Dells”
Human and sex trafficking is not only a problem in the areas visited by Jay and his team, it’s a global crisis, including in the state of Wisconsin. It’s estimated that globally 27 million people are trafficked for sex and the majority of them are women. In the state of Wisconsin where Bella Goose is based, there were 91 Human Trafficking cases reported this year*, 72 of them were sexual exploitation cases and 79 were female.
“Every girl exploited for sex, whether Asia or Wisconsin, deserves to have the same hopes and dreams that my granddaughters have.”
Not long after opening its doors, Bella Goose was given the chance to expand into the communities they could help the most, thanks in part to a relationship with Wipe Every Tear; a charity also seeking to lift young girls out of sex trafficking in the Philippines.
Kenny, the founder of Wipe Every Tear allowed us to visit his safe houses in Manila and go on the Walking Street in Angeles, Philippines, where over 10,000 girls are sex trafficked. He challenged us to build a Kraft coffee house in Angeles. We could train girls who were rescued from the Walking Street, who are ready to leave the safe houses, as coffee baristas, coffee roasters, pastry chefs, and managers. Bella Goose Coffee could provide a sustainable career for the girls rescued and financially position them to be professional Kraft Coffee House members.”
There are now three Bella Goose locations, in the Wisconsin Dell’s, Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) and Angeles (Philippines). "At Bella Goose Coffee we believe that our coffee houses can help to bring freedom to those in bondage and empower them to live amazing and awesome lives.”
Since the initial publication of The Coffee Shop Empowering Freedom some details have changed. The main store location of Bella Goose has moved and is undergoing renovation. They are currently based at Dells Riverfront Terrace just across the bridge in downtown Wisconsin Dells. You can keep up to date with them on their facebook page.
*Correct at time of publication: