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(WASHINGTON) — The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is pleased to announce that Kelsi Deel Franco, a 2013 graduate of Lee University and founder/executive director of The House of Cherith, has been named the 2022 CCCU Young Alumni Award winner. The House of Cherith is a trauma-informed residential recovery program providing a safe place for adult female survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation. This award will be presented as part of the 2022 CCCU International Forum, February 11-13, 2021, alongside the 2021 Young Alumni Award recipient Emmanuel McNeely, a 2012 graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University and co-founder of the Dr. M.D. Project, who could not receive the award in person last year due to the pandemic.
During her undergraduate career at Lee University, Deel Franco majored in Spanish with a minor in Religion. While there, she cultivated a heart for Christ and for justice, becoming equipped with the tools and resources necessary to empower her to create supportive services designed for survivors of human trafficking. At the age of 13, Deel Franco met a survivor of sex trafficking and was ignited with an immense passion for this cause. Her heart for Christ and for those on the margins was cultivated in a large family of city pastors and nonprofit founders. Her experience at Lee represented the time in her life that fanned into flame of her love for Jesus, fueled her passion for fighting for freedom, and empowered her to, “not only dream big but to do big things,” she says.
President of Lee University Dr. Mark Walker comments that “Lee University takes seriously its mission of preparing students for responsible Christian living in a complex world. Kelsi’s character and professional work embodies our mission in every way. She is a model of Christian scholarship, service, and vocation. We are very proud of Kelsi!” The Chancellor of Lee University Dr. Paul Conn adds, “We’re awfully proud of Kelsi and her commitment to service after graduation. She is a second-generation Lee grad whose entire family has modelled this kind of lifestyle. The CCCU couldn’t honor a more deserving alum.” Lee University leaders will be present at the Forum alongside Deel Franco to receive the award.
Deel Franco has since earned a Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership with a specialization in Nonprofit Management, Mental Health First Aid, Vicarious Trauma Certification, and Suicide Intervention from Northcentral University, based in La Jolla, California. She is a member of the National Honor Society of Leadership and Success, holds certifications in a variety of specialties including Trauma-Informed Care, Crisis De-escalation, and Mental Health First Aid. Currently, she is pursuing her Doctorate in Business Administration, with a Nonprofit Management specialization from Northcentral University.
In 2014, Deel Franco followed the prompting initiated at age 13 to found a safe haven for women who have been trafficked – this is now the House of Cherith, a thriving nonprofit dedicated to providing trauma-informed resources to adult female survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation and those who have been employed in the sex entertainment industry. The House of Cherith exists so that these individuals can become whole, have wounds healed, see that new opportunities become evident, and find hope restored. The mission of the house is to empower survivors to reclaim their dignity and self-worth, renew their faith in humanity, and rekindle their passion for a lifetime of success. Their website states that “While tremendous efforts have been made to raise awareness and eradicate modern-day sex trafficking, there remains a major shortage of supportive services designed for survivors. Our focus is to serve the survivors struggling to recover from the years, or even decades, of trauma they have endured.”
Women at the facility receive a variety of services including medical, dental, and mental healthcare, substance abuse counseling and recovery, case management, individual and group therapy, family reunification, trauma-informed care, health and wellness, life skills, peer support recovery, cognitive behavior therapy, financial literacy, etc.
Their housing program, Eden Village, is a program for single ladies and single mothers who are survivors of homelessness. A full, wrap-around services model that provides residents will all supportive services necessary to become self-sufficient contributing members of society. In addition to her work at the House of Cherith, Deel Franco is the Director of Housing at the City of Refuge in Atlanta, Georgia, and a member of their Board of Directors.
The CCCU Young Alumni Award is given to those who have achieved uncommon leadership or success in a way that reflects the values of Christian higher education. These values include integrating biblical truth not just into “spiritual” aspects of life, but in all areas; exemplifying a moral commitment to living out Christian virtues such as love, courage, and humility; and using gifts, talents, and opportunities to make a difference for the common good, whether in their local communities or on a broader national and international scope.
“Through her commitment to being a light in the darkness and deep commitment to Christ, Kelsi Deel Franco embodies a significant and timely example of the words of the Old Testament prophet beckoning us to, “act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God” (Micah 6:8). She actionably draws close to suffering and seeks redemption – as a young alumna, Kelsi exemplifies making a difference for the common good through the House of Cherith’s redemptive voice directly serving survivors of sex trafficking,” says CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra. “We are honored to present her with this award as she immediately stood out to us as a person who modeled initiative and courage to face a deep crisis and extend the love of Jesus in such a tangible, holistic manner.”
Deel Franco says that “The scourge of human trafficking has plagued our city, nation, and world for far too long… But where there is darkness, there is an immense opportunity for light. Lee University played a crucial role in equipping me to be resilient in this fight despite the countless tears I have cried for this population, to use my voice for those that have theirs silenced for far too long and to change the world by shining the light for one woman, one child, one survivor at a time.” Kelsi Deel Franco is an extraordinary example of Christian scholarship, service, and vocation with a sincere heart for helping others and for justice.
In addition to naming Deel Franco as the 2022 winner, James Kelly, a 2013 graduate of McMaster Divinity College in Ontario, Canada, a CCCU International Affiliate institution, was recognized as a runner-up for his work as the founder of FaithTech. FaithTech bridges the gap between faith and technology by creating thriving technology communities to pursue its mission in every major tech city in the world with communities already established in 11 cities across Canada, the United States, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia. This has become especially significant with the growing tech demands in the wake of loneliness and virtual prevalence brought on by the pandemic.
Previous winners of the CCCU Young Alumni Award include a Times Square Restaurant entrepreneur, a Sudan “Lost Boy”, and a New York Times bestseller. Read about these winners here.
The CCCU Young Alumni Award continues to feature significant facets of the redemptive work of Christ in the world through graduates of CCCU institutions displaying light, professionalism, and active participation in their vocation. The CCCU congratulates Kelsi Deel Franco and James Kelly for their achievements in enacting biblical truth, exemplifying a moral commitment to living out Christian virtues, and for using their gifts, talents, and opportunities to make a difference for the common good.
All media inquiries regarding the CCCU Young Alumni Award should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.