Kaylie Housewright joined the first Townsend Institute cohort while starting an international nonprofit to support women who are victims of sex trafficking. That meant waking up at 6 a.m. Thailand time for her “evening” class, and persevering through daily thunderstorms and iffy Internet connections.
“I would be at the office getting ready to do devotions with our survivors, and prior to that logging on to be with my cohort,” she says. “It was cool and very comforting to be with my cohort and then walk onto the field. It was like an extension of the community, an extension of their support.”
Housewright and a colleague founded the faith-based Free Rain (freerainint.org) organization in 2017. Through their Shear Love initiative, women in Thailand, Mexico, Africa and India learn cosmetology and barbering and become licensed in their country so they can provide an income for themselves and their family. Free Rain also supports women with counseling, nutrition advice, and a grounding in the Christian faith. Each chapter functions as a local church led by nationals.
Faith is vital for us as a component of our work. Through all my seasons of life I don’t understand how anyone can do work with injustice without knowing God, especially on the frontlines.
“Faith is vital for us as a component of our work,” Housewright says. “Through all my seasons of life I don’t understand how anyone can do work with injustice without knowing God, especially on the frontlines. What’s been beautiful is that it’s about winning the relationship and gaining trust. We want to be vessels of light when walking in red light districts, building those relationships.”
Housewright grew up in church but had little in the way of a personal relationship with God, she says. In high school she found herself in an abusive relationship, living two lives while attending and volunteering at church.
“I had been playing two roles in my life, keeping the secret of abuse for so long,” she says. “It’s important to understand that abuse doesn’t have to look like someone being beaten black and blue. That does happen, and though it doesn’t all look the same, the trauma can be vast.”
Returning to the Lord gave her a sense of “deep rest,” she says, and freed her from the lie that if she was “good enough,” the abuse would end.
“I stopped trying to blame or fix myself, and realized that what I’d been through could be used for something incredible,” Housewright says.
With newfound faith and freedom from the bad relationship, Housewright sensed a profound calling to help others like her, particularly in areas of the planet where help was scarce.
“So many women in Africa go through sexual abuse and don’t think it happens in America,” Housewright says. “They think we all live next to Beyonce.”
She intended to drop out of community college, sell everything and move to Africa, but when she shared her plan with her grandfather, in what turned out to be their last conversation, he counseled her, “I know it seems selfless to whisk away and sell everything, but it would be selfish to deny those you serve of your full potential.”
Housewright took those words to heart, and soon after her grandfather died, she applied to schools and finished her undergraduate degree. She then co-founded Free Rain, got married and one day heard about the then-new Townsend Institute at Concordia University Irvine.
“I called and did my research,” she says. “You could tell that everyone was so passionate about what was happening. They made me excited about my journey.”
She joined the first cohort and says the kickoff conference was “absolutely incredible and created an indescribable bond. They did a brilliant job.”
The conference included lectures by world-renowned speakers giving “amazing insight right away,” Housewright says. Even more impacting were the facilitated small-group sessions which took students through the kind of intensive group therapy they would ask of their future clients.
“I can’t say enough how vital it was to have that,” Housewright says. “They created community and a bond in the cohort from the beginning. That created an empowerment in us as a whole.” Part of the approach they learned was to meet people where they are at, not simply swoop in with your own agenda.
“Townsend used the picture of sitting in the well with somebody,” Housewright says. “There’s so much beauty in allowing people to come as they are, not just trying to pull them out but helping them find their true worth and healing in their time and way. That’s something I carry with me.”
Townsend used the picture of sitting in the well with somebody. There’s so much beauty in allowing people to come as they are, not just trying to pull them out but helping them find their true worth and healing in their time and way. That’s something I carry with me.
She enjoyed her classes so much that no matter where she was, she made sure not to miss them. Often, that meant sitting in her home in Thailand on floor mats, using her phone as a hotspot for her laptop computer, in lightning storms, and with the Internet connection freezing regularly and capturing a goofy expression of hers on the screen.
“What stood out about the Townsend Institute is how much those involved care and how passionate they are about the program,” she says. “You could tell the professors wanted to engage, that they love what they do and care about our progress. It felt like a classroom experience though I was on the other side of the world. You could tell each professor was truly hand-chosen and they love what they do and care about our progress. It shows. Every professor gave feedback to all our assignments.”
She also appreciated studying the neuroscience of counseling, and the program’s emphasis on excellence and lifelong learning.
Today, Housewright’s cohort remains close, communicating weekly by Facebook group, phone call or text. Friends from her cohort even came to her bridal shower. She graduated with her master’s degree in counseling in May 2019 and is going toward state licensure in marriage and family therapy.
“I truly believe that passion is powerful but only gets you so far,” she says. “It gets back to what my grandfather said. We never want to deny individuals of our fullest potential.”
Free Rain is expanding as well, and now counts Housewright’s Townsend education among its assets. Each program operates as a Christian community, with devotions every morning and a community committed to rising up and breaking negative cycles. Volunteers are welcome—and plentiful—with people from the U.S. applying to be guest barbers, hair stylists, English teachers, licensed therapists and more.
“Anyone who has a passion or a hobby can be used to fight injustice and eradicate it,” Housewright says. “That’s how Free Rain was born. I feel like the Townsend Institute is behind me in my endeavor to supply restorative support to others.”
Hear students describe the power of learning at the Townsend Institute