Correction: This story was corrected Monday, Feb. 29 at 9:30 p.m. to include the following: Melissa Hoon studied in South Africa as a graduate student, not an undergraduate. She facilitated a workshop with WEAVE, but did not conduct research. Her program has always included all types of abuse survivors, not just survivors of human trafficking. It was also updated for semantics.
When Cal State Fullerton alumna Melissa Hoon isn’t working, meditating or journaling, she helps survivors of abuse by teaching them about the freeing power of therapeutic journaling.
”What I’ve found as a pattern with most people is fear,” she said. “They’re scared to write, and they don’t know where to start.”
Hoon created a program in which people can tune into their feelings, learn about self-compassion and meditation and take a pen to paper to tell their story.
The Inner Awakening Writing Center, founded in 2013, takes a holistic approach to journaling and offers workshops to people who want to take control of their story and address pain and hardship that their abuse has caused.
Hoon, who makes a living as a development writer for Chapman University, has been interested in issues surrounding gender-based violence since she was a child.
In her time studying abroad in South Africa as a graduate, she said that she mentored children who had been abandoned, abused and neglected. It was then that she realized that many of the children were also victims of sexual abuse.
“It wasn’t just ‘Oh, these kids need counseling,’ or ‘Oh, they need foster care.’ It’s ‘They need everything,’” Hoon said.
By the time Hoon got back to the states, she found her calling. During this period, she tried out an early version of her journaling program by giving one of the survivors a writing prompt, and Hoon said it seemed to really make a difference.
She then began working as a youth anti-sex trafficking specialist in Sacramento with an organization called Women Escaping A Violent Environment (WEAVE). There, she conducted a well-received writing workshop.
“It’s a lot of techniques to kind of walk you through different ways that you can help yourself and kind of put focus on what it is that you want to work on,” Hoon said.
After conducting her workshop several times for WEAVE, she began offering it at a meditation center in Portland.
Carrie Lane, Ph.D., a CSUF American studies professor who had Hoon as a student, said that Hoon was an intellectually curious, hard-working student who was a pleasure to work with.
“Writing and journaling and meditation and mindfulness had always been very important to Melissa,” Lane said. “And this was just a very serendipitous way in which her interest in those topics and her commitment to helping victims of sex trafficking just came together.”
Natalie Deshotels, a participant in one of Hoon’s workshops, said that she loved the different techniques of journaling.
“You meditate first, and then you write and then you reflect after that. The kind of decisions that come to you in that quiet moment when you are pen to paper. Things become real when you write it or it releases the power of it,” Deshotels said.
Jeff Brody, CSUF communications professor, also mentored Hoon, and invited her to do a workshop for his feature article writing class.
“This is precisely what journalists need to do, they need to brand themselves and become entrepreneurial,” Brody said. “Melissa is a prime example of a student or program who isn’t going to complain about not finding a job at a newspaper industry. She goes out and establishes herself as a writing coach, as an entrepreneur and will have a successful business.”
Hoon’s plan is to turn these workshops and this program into a nonprofit organization. The program recognizes five different types of abuse: spiritual, psychological or emotional, financial, physical and sexual. While the program has always helped survivors of all kinds of abuse, it has expanded to aid anyone in need of help.
“One of the things that I think is wonderful about what Melissa’s doing is that one could take what she is doing and turn it into, I believe, a pretty profitable business,” Lane said. “Instead, what she wants to do is to make sure that these workshops are available for free or as little money as possible to the people that they can help.”
Eventually Hoon would like to be able to help military veterans, prison inmates, at-risk youth, teenage girls, bullied youth and those recovering from various addictions, too.
“By the time they’ve written for a couple of hours, they feel this release. They feel like something has shifted or been processed. And it’s a really, really beautiful thing,” Hoon said.