There is a quote by an unknown person that says “ I may be only one person but I can be one person who makes a difference.” This quote speaks directly to the heart and spirit of Sue Kirby, Founder and Executive Director of Brightstar Community. Sue graciously shared some of her valuable time to talk to me about the incredible Brightstar Community. The date of our interview was one year and one day from the date that “Lisa’s House”, the first Brightstar Community home, opened to their first residents.
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” William James
In 2004 Sue was having coffee with her husband when she said to him “ I want to create a safe place for people to recover their true selves”. His reply was “this sounds like your mission statement”. Seventeen years later Sue’s mission statement has become a reality in the creation of Brightstar Community. Sue knew from that day on she wanted to do something that would have an impact on the lives of women. Originally she wanted to start a program that supported women coming out of prison that helped them work through their addiction, while supporting them in their transition back into society. Sue shared a fact that 18 months is often a turning point for women and sobriety. If a woman makes it to 18 months their chances of maintaining sobriety increases. Knowing this information made Sue curious. What prevented women getting to 18 months? She found factors such as lack of family support, lack of time, and lack of other support in their lives were significant obstacles to maintaining sobriety. The other factor Sue was not aware of was the amount of women who are being sex trafficked and how prevalent sex trafficking is. Sue shared once she had this knowledge she could see all the ways and places sex trafficking was occurring, including in her own community of Rochester, New York.
“I believe the world is one big family, and we need to help each other.” Jet Li
In 2015 Sue’s official journey with Brightstar Community began. She had heard about Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a global movement that provides support for women who are survivors of sex trafficking. Sue felt goosebumps when she read about Thistle Farms. An often occurrence in Sue’s life is that people and places pop up quickly when she needs it. An opportunity to meet with Becca Stevens happened. From there Sue began a whirlwind of becoming a non-profit. She found a pro-bono attorney from a volunteer legal services project. She worked with a SCORE mentor and was able to begin providing some services under the umbrella of FLACE, a program offered by Canandaigua National Bank. Every Friday Sue, who was a legal secretary, would meet with her friend Lisa. They used the book “Nonprofit Kit for Dummies” to determine the steps Sue needed to take to begin Brightstar Community. While Brightstar Community is a stand alone non-profit they partner with Thistle Farms to provide more comprehensive services to support women.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Unknown
While Sue was doing all the things she needed to do to complete the process of having Brightstar Community become a non-profit she was also doing street outreach. Armed with her famous “Frito Pie” she would go weekly to the areas where she knew these women in need were located. She would bring them care packages of items she knew they needed as many women were living on the streets. She would ask them what their needs were and how she could help. All of these women have experienced significant trauma in their life which made it hard for them to trust anyone. Sue’s loving eyes could still see the little girl inside each and every one of these women. When COVID hit Sue continued to do her outreach because she knew these women were still on the street. She would have morning and evening zoom check-ins with a couple of the women she met to show her care, concern, and to build trust while continuing to bring them food and other needed supplies.
“Love is the most powerful catalyst. It can change a heart and the world.” Debasish Mridha
As the process continued to get the first Brightstar Community home, Sue shared it was easy to get people who wanted to help. All the needed items to establish a home for women who had been sex trafficked and going through recovery were being met. A Brightstar Community home provides a safe place where women can live for up to two years while having healing, therapeutic, and other wellness support provided. Everything is free. If a woman is a victim of sex trafficking and addiction, has gone through detox and had 30 days of inpatient substance abuse treatment, Brightstar Community will have a spot for them when they are discharged. Because of the partnership with Thistle Farms, if there was ever a waiting list, and a woman was willing to move, they could relocate to a sister home. Trauma therapy, art therapy, yoga therapy, DBT training, regular check-ins with volunteers, job training and so much more are provided. There are expectations and guidelines provided to a woman when she moves into a house. This house is to be their home for two years so they can heal.
“A light is within you blocked by dark clouds.” Sue Kirby
Sue is fierce in her determination to advocate and be a voice for women who have been sex trafficked. Brightstar Community works with representatives in Albany and Washington on policy through the representative of Thistle Farms in charge of Advocacy and Public Policy, along with being an active member of the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RRCAHT). Brightstar Community partners with the Rochester and Monroe County Human Trafficking Intervention Court, treatment centers, Set Free ROC, local colleges and churches, and other community supports. Brightstar Community provides documentary and educational panels to inform people about sex trafficking. She hopes to provide a shift in perception about the women that have been victims of sex trafficking. Sue understands the need to have anyone providing support in a Brightstar Community home will have trauma- informed training. To take care of her personal needs Sue makes it a regular practice to “retreat, regroup, and return” while participating in her own 12- step programs and setting healthy boundaries.
It is with honor and admiration that our kindness champion spotlight shines on Sue Kirby and Brightstar Community. Sue is surrounded by angels from her mother who instilled this gift of helping others, to her friend Lisa who tragically died from suicide yet continues to provide what Sue needs for Brightstar Community in so many ways. When Gandhi said “in a gentle way you can shake the world” he spoke to the spirit of Sue Kirby, Brightstar Community, and Lisa’s House. We thank you for bringing your awesome to the world.
If you, or someone you know needs help with Human Trafficking, you can contact the Human Trafficking Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888. If you need free treatment referral or information for mental health or substance abuse SAMHSA’s Hotline is 1-800-662-4357.
For more information about Brightstar Community here is their information: