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Thistle Farms Founder Named Top 10 CNN Hero Of The Year

Posted at 11:14 PM, Oct 27, 2016

What makes someone a hero?

Is it what they do? How they make others feel?

"I beat myself up more than anybody else can," said Tracey Warfield-Talley, who works at Thistle Farms.

Warfield-Talley was in a dark place 12 years ago. She was living on the streets and addicted to drugs.

"I was in an abusive relationship," she said, "and it led me to kill my ex boyfriend."

When she got out of jail her father heard about Thistle Farms.

"The idea is that you take a small group of women, bring them together, offer community and watch how powerful they are," said Thistle Farms Founder Rev. Becca Stevens.

Women who have been abused, raped, trafficked and addicted get work, education, health care and most importantly: a home for two years.

"If you say the word 'home' to women in prison, the women will weep," Stevens said, "that's what people long for is community, meaning."

The project that started with a single home has grown over 20 years. Thistle Farms Cafe is a coffee shop with a standing invite for the community. The Thistle Farms studio produces crafts, clothes and jewelry with the help of women from around the world.

"This is one of our partners for survival in China," Stevens said, showing new merchandise: a necklace stamped with a thistle.

And the factory on-site puts the women to work, making homemade balms, candles and lotion. This holiday season one of their candles will appear in Whole Foods stores across the country. It will be their largest order to-date.

Warfield-Talley is now a manager at the factory. She helps newcomers transition to their new lives through the program.

And she says Thistle Farms changed everything for her.

"I think I'd be still out there (without Thistle Farms), " she said, before she's interrupted by a co-worker.

"And she wouldn't have found me!!" laughed Gwen Cockrell, who Warfield-Talley playfully calls her sidekick.

The women involved have each other for support, which they say is a big part of their renewed personal success. So while Stevens may not wear a cape, she's saved a lot of people.

 

And like every hero, her compassion comes from her own story. She says she was sexually abused and lost her father at a young age.

"I really think I've had a lot of mercy shown to me that I'm thankful for forever," she said.

If Stevens wins CNN's "Hero of the Year"  she'll get $100,000 to open another women's home and help other cities follow the model set by Thistle Farms.

You can vote for her here.

Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa will co-host the CNN Heroes special on Dec. 11.