Cody Foute sat behind the wheel and burst into tears. “Everything’s perfect in this car,” the 27-year-old Moreno Valley resident said after composing herself. “It’s a total blessing.” Foute drove away with a free 2010 Toyota Corolla after a ceremony at Ben Clymer’s The Body Shop in Moreno Valley on Sept. 12.
A human trafficking survivor, Foute won the car in a giveaway made possible by The Body Shop and other community partners. The Clymer family gives away a car a year at each of its three locations in Moreno Valley, Riverside and Yucaipa.
“It’s because of the community that has helped us that we’re more than happy to give back to that community,” said Ben Clymer, CEO of The Body Shop.
Nonprofits and other groups nominate individuals who are in financial need, lack reliable transportation, have turned their lives around and are making a difference. Community Connect, a Riverside nonprofit, screens the applications. Employees at The Body Shop pick the winner.
“Cody was selected because she has a gut-wrenching story as a human trafficking survivor and dedicates her free time to publicly speak out about human trafficking,” said Ben Clymer Jr., vice president of The Body Shop.
The Automobile Club of Southern California donated the car, which was recovered at a salvage yard. It was repaired by Body Shop employees, who donated their time and labor. Parts, paint and materials were donated by area businesses.
The car came with one year of insurance, a trunk full of groceries and coupons for free oil changes and other repairs. Foute’s vehicle registration fees were also paid.
Foute was nominated by L.I.G.H.T., Liberating the Imprisoned and Giving Hope to the Taken, an anti-human trafficking ministry of VantagePoint Church in Eastvale. Foute attends the church.
“God turns all the bad into good,” said Foute, a single mom of a 4-year-old girl. “My life has changed because of him.” Foute had a difficult childhood.
Her biological father, David Foute, was convicted of arson and sentenced in 1998 to four years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to Texas prison records.
Her mom was a drug addict. She turned around her life and now works as a drug and alcohol counselor, Foute said. Growing up, Foute said, she lived in group homes. She turned to drugs to forget her problems. When Foute was 15, she said she met a girl at a Riverside group home. The girl convinced her to run away by promising her a better life. The girl turned out to be a recruiter for two pimps. “They gave us drugs, bought us new clothes and treated us nice for two weeks,” Foute said.
To pay back the men, Foute said she was forced into a world of sex trafficking. “I thought that was all I was ever good at,” she said. The men hit other girls in front of her to show her what would happen if she didn’t cooperate, she said. Two years ago, Foute said, she was badly beaten in front of her daughter. “I remember my daughter screaming and crying,” Foute said. “I knew that wasn’t OK. I knew I needed to change.”
She saw an opportunity to escape and got away with her daughter. She ran to a gas station and called her mother and the police.
She said her faith, family and friends have helped her stay on the right path. She singles out Jim Baldwin, her “spiritual dad” who runs a Riverside nonprofit called Smile Seekers. The organization assists inner-city youths and senior citizens. “If it weren’t for him and the churches and nonprofits that believed in who I am as a person and helped to build me up, I wouldn’t be here today,” Foute said.
In the past year and a half, Foute said she has earned the equivalent of a high school diploma, found a job and moved into transitional housing. She said she has been sober more than a year.
She is a volunteer speaker for Runaway Girl, an organization devoted to educating at-risk youths and combating human trafficking. She gives presentations to law enforcement agencies, nurses, probation officers, social workers, first responders and youth groups.
Foute said she gave her old car, a 1991 Nissan Sentra, to another single mom who doesn’t have a vehicle. The Nissan, which has more than 250,000 miles, broke down often. She said that made it hard for her to travel long distances to spread her anti-trafficking message.
“They’re not just helping me by giving me this car,” she said. “They’re helping countless others because I will be able to share my story with many more people.”