“There’s a scripture that says your gift will make a way for you,” said Julie Shematz. That Bible verse literally showed her the way to carry a message to a population of which she once was a part.
Shematz takes gift packages with beauty supplies and information about community resources for leaving “the life” into strip clubs. She and her evangelizing partners tell the manager they are there to offer encouragement and support to the entertainers. They’ve never been turned down.
For seven years, she was a member of the adult entertainment industry, at the mercy of a man who controlled her money and her life. She began working in strip clubs when she was a sophomore in college in Indiana and low on money. That experience – along with a master’s degree in mental health counseling from FGCU and her religious faith – fuel the outreach she does today. She has been married for 11 years to a man she met at church in Fort Myers. She calls herself an “overcomer.”
Shematz, who grew up on a 1,000-acre farm in the Midwest, began the program in 2005 to improve the lives of women and men who often have been sexually abused, exploited and the victims of human trafficking. Beauty from Ashes’ name also has a biblical basis, she said. “It comes from the scripture Isaiah 61: 1-3, which paraphrased is how God is drawn to the brokenhearted and he will exchange beauty for ashes.”
She spent some time as a church bookkeeper but eventually quit to work full time on her ministry. Beauty from Ashes is a national nonprofit now, helping sex workers get out of the business and educating young people to prevent them from falling into it.