San Diego native starts nonprofit to combat sex trafficking and exploitation.

Seeds of Hope, a nonprofit organization in Costa Rica, recently reached three years of offering education, guidance and restoration to children who are at-risk or victims of sexual exploitation, drugs, alcohol and violence. The organization, founded by a San Diegan, has experienced rapid growth since its inception and has expanded across Costa Rica into five at-risk towns across the nation.

Although Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, it also has a darker side as it suffers from high rates of sex trafficking. Penny Williams, a local businesswoman, regularly traveled to Costa Rica for work projects, but was not aware of the magnitude of the issue until a simple conversation changed her life. During one of her visits to the area, she happened to speak with a tourist who told her he traveled to Costa Rica for sex tourism. This was the beginning of an eye-opening journey for Williams, who began visiting the local neighborhoods to see the reality of the issue firsthand. After meeting several young girls who had been prostituted, Williams was compelled to make a change. She sold her home in San Diego and moved to Costa Rica with her husband, Chris. They founded Seeds of Hope, which began with a single “Clubhouse” helping girls ages 8 to 17.

The first Clubhouse was situated at the crossroads of three poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the city of Parrita –30 minutes from the popular tourist cities of Quepos and Manuel Antonio. In its first year, the location drew a crowd of more than 50 girls seeking relief and assistance. The Clubhouse offers counseling and classes in subjects such as English, healthy living and spiritual enrichment. Vocational skills such as tourism, sewing, cosmetology and jewelry-making are also offered, which give the girls an alternative way of providing food for their families other than prostitution.

By the time the girls finish Seeds of Hope, they are equipped to live a healthy, productive life with a vocation that they are passionate about. The behavior modification program rewards them for good behavior such as class participation, being on time, showing responsibility and good attendance. The jewelry program provides weekly groceries to moms whose families are at risk. The leaders program teaches students to rise above the others as role models.

Since its inception in April 2012, Seeds of Hope has expanded and now includes four additional Clubhouses in other cities where sex tourism is prominent including Jaco, Quepos, Dominicalito and Palomo. The Clubhouses have grown to serve more than 120 children, and the organization has plans to open two additional clubhouses this year. They have also started a boys program, Roots of Hope, which offers similar classes to equip young men for vocations other than dealing drugs.

Support the children in the program by buying the jewelry they create. You can select the beautiful, handmade jewelry of your choice by visiting the website