Photo by Erica Knox
Mommas, meet Holly Christine Hayes! I have been dying to introduce this beautiful woman to you as a local momma since she first became pregnant with her miracle baby Havana, who was born 9 months ago. The first time I met Holly- I don’t know if she remembers this- I told her I felt like I already knew her. In her humility, she didn’t tell me that she is an author and public speaker (with impeccable comedic timing I came to learn later). Odds are, I had seen her somewhere, but she wasn’t about to toot her own horn. That is just not her character.
Holly’s life is all about pouring life and love out over others and lifting them up, as you’ll soon see. Today, we’re talking about the beginning of Sanctuary Project, a local non-profit founded by Holly, dedicated to helping women coming out of trafficking, addiction and abuse. Her own story is more than just a story… it is a testimony of a life transformed, and going out to help other women find the same freedom. There is not time or space to tell all here, we can only begin to scratch the surface… though you may still want to grab some tissues. After reading our short interview below, I’ll link to her book and the Sanctuary Project website!
Holly, where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Austin?
I’m originally from the San Francisco area, but I moved to Austin from Paris, France just after
my husband and I got married. We’ve been here in Austin since 2017.
What is your favorite thing about living here?
Austin has been an incredible place to start a business. The community is endlessly supportive
and encouraging. We’ve met some of the best people in the world in this city. We live just
outside the city in the Hill Country and the quiet, peaceful life has also been a dream come true! We
love having land and animals and enjoying the open space here in Texas.
Photo by Erica Knox
What do you love to do with your family around town?
We are real home-bodies and mostly enjoy spending time on our homestead, taking care of the
animals, cooking together and relaxing. When we do go out, we love taking day trips out to
Fredericksburg or enjoying Austin’s great restaurants.
Tell us about the birth of Sanctuary Project. What is the “why?” behind what you do?
Nearly 20 years ago, I came out of a life of trafficking, violence, and addiction. Over the
last 20 years I have spent a large portion of my time mentoring other women
transitioning out of that life and have always seen a gap in care and reintegration
around employment. For women recovering from exploitation, finding meaningful,
dignified work can be challenging. Employers willing to invest in a woman in transition
have the ability to dramatically impact that woman’s life and future. I built Sanctuary
Project with that aim and goal in mind. I want to be a place where women can cry at
work…a place that understands when they are having a hard day… but also a place
that empowers them to be more than society has told them they can be.
Sanctuary Project was birthed in a corner of my kitchen in January of 2018, where I sat
at my kitchen table teaching myself to make jewelry from videos on YouTube. In the last
two years it’s grown to providing more than 6800 hours of employment for 19 survivors
of sex trafficking, violence, and addiction in Austin. Being a Nonprofit Social Enterprise
means that we use our commercial activity – selling jewelry – as a force for social good –
employing survivors. In practice, this works by having the LLC branch of Sanctuary
Project, which sells you our beautiful products, reinvesting 100% of its profits into our
501c3’s activity of providing employment and job training to survivors. What I love most
about this model is that in the same way we encourage all the women who work for us to work
towards becoming financially self-supporting, so are we! Our goal is to one day fully
fund our nonprofit activity through sales, which frees up charitable resources for other
wonderful organizations who cannot generate revenue outside of fundraising and
As survivors working in community with each other, we spread the joy of a life
redeemed to the next woman who is reaching for freedom. The true joy that I have
found in faith and recovery is my greatest weapon against the ravages of trafficking,
violence and addiction and a gift I get to pass on to the women in our job training
program. Because our mission is to be a safe landing in the workplace for newly
recovered women, our goal is for our employees to move on from our community of
jewelry makers when they are ready and secure full time jobs, go back to school,
advance themselves, and achieve economic freedom. When a survivor is ready for full-
time work, I get the ultimate sense of fulfillment, seeing what we’re doing is working!
I know you are involved in other ways within the community beyond Sanctuary Project. What does that look like?
Because much of the work I do is advocating for trafficking survivors, I spend a good
amount of time serving within Travis County Jail with the Ascend Life Skills program and
building connections with other anti-trafficking organizations in the area. My husband
and I also serve as Worship Leaders in our church!
How has this community been instrumental in getting you to where you are now?
The Austin community has been so welcoming and kind to us through the process of moving
here early in our marriage, building a social enterprise and nonprofit, and starting a family. This
is really a city where we can do it all! There is no city on earth so encouraging to its families,
entrepreneurs, and business owners. From day one, we have felt loved and championed by this
city and community.
Lastly, what is one thing people would be surprised to know about you…
Although I’ve always been a bit of a “fancy girl” and have spent the majority of my life living in
big cities (San Francisco, LA, Boston, New York, and Paris), I have truly found my home on our
homestead out in Hill Country with all our wonderful animals. Those who’ve known me forever
are probably most surprised by this!
Photo by Tim Moore
I can attest to this as well, y’all. You’d never peg Holly for a farm girl after seeing her in friends homes, at parties, galas and on stage. But she is truly at home on her little farm. It is truly a little slice of heaven!
Order Holly’s book, From Basement to Sanctuary, HERE in Hardback, Paperback or Kindle version.
To read about my favorite Sanctuary Project earrings- literally wear these almost every day– click HERE.
To shop Sanctuary Project or join me as a Sanctuary Sister click HERE.
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