As a child, Christine McDonald's life at home was nightmarish. She was in a poverty-stricken, fatherless home. Her mother struggled with mental illness. She suffered from sexual abuse. She'd been in juvenile justice and foster care.
She ran away — dozens of time.
"I was an at-risk youth," McDonald said. "Because of my being an at-risk youth, I was groomed by a predatory person who ended up selling me. So, I was trafficked."
That was in Oklahoma.
She ended up in Kansas City, where she spend the next 17 years involved in sex trafficking, incarceration, homelessness and substance abuse.
Over two decades, she experienced 103 arrests and seven prison stays.
She became determined to end the cycles of homelessness, addiction and criminal conduct.
Now an author, whose first book about her journey out of sexual exploitation and human trafficking is to be made into a film, McDonald is a consultant and motivational speaker.
An artist who is connected with HALO (Helping Art Liberate Orphans) read "Cry Purple: One Woman's Journey," which was McDonald's first book, describing her journey from two decades of prostitution, drug addiction and prison to her current life of blindness, motherhood and happiness, according to goodreads.com
The book inspired the reader to create a piece of art, which she shared with the Kansas City office of HALO, which in turn invited McDonald to meet with the organization.
HALO is a nonprofit organization that provides homes for girls ages 16-21 and their children who are in homeless or high-risk situations. It provides a home for girls in Jefferson City and is also preparing to open an after-school home for boys.
"I didn't even know they existed," McDonald said. "And, I was just fascinated when I learned what they're doing to engage and motivate and connect with our community's at-risk youth."
As a child, McDonald's life had a lot of hopelessness, she said, and organizations like HALO provide glimmers of hope.
HALO staff talk about "Love Heals," McDonald said. It is true, she added. Love, empathy and compassion and similar feelings go a long way toward healing youth, she said.
"I said, 'Oh, my gosh, I have a Love Heals tattoo.' We're kindred. We were supposed to encounter one another," she said.
HALO leadership invited her to be a part of the INSPIRE event. It was an exciting opportunity, she said.
"We can be a part of changing and transforming our community — one person at a time," McDonald said. "And that trickles out — not only to our community — to our city, to our state, to our nation."
McDonald said her life was the result of being in a community where the support and services HALO provides weren't available. With HALO, youth have access to compassion, understanding, safe foster care and adults who create safe relationships who want to meet youth where the youth are comfortable.
McDonald didn't have those resources when she ran from home.
"I definitely wasn't running to something. I was running from something," she said. "These are some of the things they have. Now, these kiddos have that stability, so they can go to school and finish their high school diploma. I didn't finish school. I was just trying to survive."
She'll speak about under-served and marginalized populations during INSPIRE, a daylong women's conference Sept. 14 to raise money for homeless children and help women "nourish, beautify and feed their souls."
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The conference will allow participants to treat themselves to a day of inspiration, with speakers discussing topics ranging from easy meal preparation for eating healthy to how to overcome adversity, to living with intention.
In addition to McDonald, speakers include Kim Becking, an author and expert on leadership who helps listeners conquer change, and HALO Founder Rebecca Welsh.
She and HALO are natural partners, McDonald said.
"HALO works with vulnerable youth," she said. "I was an at-risk youth, and I ended up homeless at 15. Because of my vulnerabilities and my homelessness and the lack of services, such as HALO and caring people, I ended up spending 21 years of my life homeless."
If adults can engage with and inspire hope in youth before they find themselves in terrible situations, they can create an environment of wholeness later, she continued.
"If we can do things to create that stability, that prevents them from — maybe — encounters in the justice system," she said. "Maybe they avoid encounters with a predator that may traffic them."
INSPIRE will let women know how they can continue to energize and save youth, McDonald said.
In addition to the speakers, women attending INSPIRE will have chances to attend "strength" sessions called "Feed your soul," "Train Your Brain," "Nourish Your Body," Beautify Your Space" and "Breathe Your Best."
The event will feature performances by Ladonna Ellis and artist Carly Rae.
Food trucks and a local marketplace will be available.
INSPIRE is 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at Miller Performing Arts Center, 501 Madison St.
Tickets are $50 and may be found at haloworldwide.org. Once on the site, click on "Events," then on "INSPIRE: A women's conference to benefit HALO."
A tab for buying tickets is on that page. VIP tickets, which cost $100, will allow ticket-holders to attend a meet-and-greet with speakers at a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception following the event, from 4-6 p.m., in the Bella Vista Room at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 422 Monroe St.