2014 Thistle Farms National Conference

Nashville, Tennessee
Sunday, October 12, 2014


Becca Stevens is one of the premiere preachers and speakers in the U.S. proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change. She is an Episcopal priest and founder of Magdalene, residential communities of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. She founded Thistle Farms in 2001 which currently employs nearly 50 residents and graduates, and houses a natural body care line, a paper and sewing studio and the Thistle Stop Café. She demonstrates that love is good business and raises millions of dollars annually for the organizations she runs. She is a prolific writer and has been featured in the New York Times and on ABC World News, NPR, PBS, CNN, and Huffington Post and named by the White House as one of 15 Champions of Change for violence against women in 2011. She was recently named 2014 Humanitarian of the Year by the Small Business Council of America, has been inducted into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, and was conferred an honorary doctorate by Sewanee: The University of the South. In fall 2013, Stevens launched the first Thistle Farms national conference welcoming attendees from over 30 states. Her newest book, “The Way of Tea & Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from its Violent History,” will release in 2014. Stevens lives in Nashville with her husband, Grammy-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, and their three sons.

As a journalist reporting on China, Sheryl WuDunn
saw the everyday oppression of women around the world.
She and husband Nicholas Kristof wrote "Half the Sky," chronicling women's stories of horror and, especially, hope.

Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, is a business executive and best-selling author. WuDunn and Kristof, won a Pulitzer for their
New York Times coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Their joint reporting work in China and other developing nations convinced them that, just as slavery was the moral issue of the 19th century, sex trafficking, gender-based violence and other abuses make women's rights the moral issue of the 21st.

WuDunn co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a No. 1 New York Times best-selling book about the challenges facing women around the globe, which was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Colbert Report and other network shows. Half the Sky became a multi-platform digital media effort that included a highly popular documentary series on PBS in 2012.

Her latest release with Kristof, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, goes on sale September 23, 2014. Thistle Farms and Barnes and Noble are pleased to host a Book Signing Event for A Path Appears after Ms. WuDunn's keynote speech at Vanderbilt's Student Life Center, sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Vanderbilt University on Monday, October 13. Check the conference schedule for details. 

Sheryl WuDunn lectures to a wide range of American and global audiences on economic, political, and social topics related to women in the developing world, the global economy, China, and the emerging markets. To read more, click here.


The Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha is an Anglican priest in Uganda with a parish outside of Kampala. In 1992, he became the first religious leader in Africa to publicly announce that he was HIV positive. In 2009, Byamugisha received the 26th annual Niwano Peace Prize "in recognition of his work to uphold the dignity and human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS". Byamugisha co-founded the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Personally Affected HIV and Aids (ANERELA+) in February 2002 and in 2006 started a shelter for orphans of AIDS victims.

Byamugisha has become prominent in the international HIV/AIDS community. He has worked as an advisor to World Vision and has traveled internationally to speak about HIV/AIDS including a conference at the White House. 

Byamugisha advocates the view that HIV related issues reveal problems in other areas of society, such as poverty, social inequality and oppression, gender relations, trade, and government policy. Fixing these issues will have a significant effect on the AIDS epidemic in Africa. 

Regina Mullins is Resident Manager and Outreach Director for Magdalene and one of the very first graduates of the program. She was the fifth woman to enter Magdalene. After an abusive marriage, Regina ended up on the streets needing money to support herself and her children. She started out selling drugs, a habit which grew into using and prostituting. After a dozen years on the streets, Regina entered the Magdalene program and started a new life. Upon graduation, Regina found herself reaching out to women on the streets and was hired as part of Magdalene's leadership team. She is a dynamic and inspirational speaker who has a passion for raising awareness about recovery and healing. Regina recently celebrated 18 years of sobriety and is presently working on her licensing for Alcohol and Drug Counseling.

Shelia Simpkins McClain is Magdalene's Assistant Resident Manager, Coordinator of Magdalene on the Inside (new prison program), an Intervention Specialist with End Slavery Tennesse and also a graduate of the Magdalene program. Shelia's story began with sexual abuse at an early age, followed by running away from home and early drug use. By the time she was 18, she had turned to prostitution and was subsequently trafficked across the country. After 22 years on the streets and being in and out of jail numerous times, she was locked up for the last time in September 2004 when she asked the judge to let her join the Magdalene community. Shelia entered the program later that year and 6 months later, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her physical and emotional recovery continued and she graduated in 2007. Her story has been featured in the New York Times and on NPR. She is now married with two children, owns her own home and received her B.A. in Psychology in December of 2013 with the goal of a earning a master’s in mental health counseling.

Dr. Andrea Link is the founder of an 
innovative program in Houston called 
"Healthy and Whole," which is a collaboration between Healthcare for the Homeless and Angela House, designed to help women recovering from prostitution and human trafficking. Started as a pilot almost two years ago and modeled largely after Magdalene, this multi-modal program features wellness, health education, peer support, employment counseling and psycho-educational services. It is the first program in the country for women exiting prostitution developed as a partnership between a medical school-affiliated homeless clinic and an existing residential program. Dr. Link did her medical training and residency in pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. After several years as a pediatrician with Texas Children's Hospital, she had a shift in her clinical interests and spent three years working with incarcerated women at Harris County Jail as part of a program run by Baylor College of Medicine and Healthcare for the Homeless Houston. 
Dr. Link also researches the psychosocial and medical issues involved in street-level prostitution and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Sister Maureen O'Connell is the founder and Executive Director of Angela House, a Houston-based facility serving women exiting the Texas criminal justice system since 2001. A Certified Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and approved Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy supervisor in the State of Texas, she is a clinical member of the American Group Psychotherapy Society, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston, Graduate School of Social Work. She was the founding Clinical Services Coordinator at The Children’s Assessment Center in Houston in 1992 and has extensive and varied experiences as a teacher, a Police Officer and Chaplain for the Chicago Police Department, a psychotherapist, trainer, coordinator, and manager of community service agencies. She has frequently provided expert testimony in both civil and criminal courts. She has conducted international, national, state, and local training on a variety of topics related to child sexual abuse and women’s issues. She has also provided training to numerous communities to assist them in developing a multi-disciplinary team response to child sexual abuse. She holds a BA Degree from DePaul University in Chicago and an M.S.W. Degree from the University of Houston. She is a vowed member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.


Kate Mogulescu is a supervising attorney in the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, where she has represented indigent clients facing criminal prosecution for over a decade. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the City College of New York. 

In 2011, Ms. Mogulescu founded and developed the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project, the first anti-trafficking project to be implemented by a public defender organization. She continues to run this project, which aims to better identify victims of trafficking and exploitation among individuals prosecuted in New York City.  

Ms. Mogulescu regularly trains public defenders, prosecutors, and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, both in New York City and nationally, on best practices to identify victims of sex trafficking and prevent the criminalization of vulnerable populations. She has provided testimony before the New York City Council, the New York State Legislature and the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the issue of combating sex trafficking.  

Ms. Mogulescu was recently named one of the Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association, an award recognizing legal professionals who have distinguished themselves in their field, and have demonstrated a profound commitment to LGBT Equality.  In 2012, Ms. Mogulescu was named a finalist for the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Public Interest Award, which "recognizes outstanding mid-career public interest lawyers whose work best exemplifies its namesake’s legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people."

Ms. Mogulescu received her J.D. from Yale Law School and a B.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton.


Cary Rayson became the Executive Director of Magdalene in 2010, following ten years of service on the Magdalene Board of Directors as board chair, grant-writer and clinical supervisor. She received her Bachelors of Arts from Vanderbilt University in 1982 and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Tennessee in 1986. After working for eight years with adolescents and families in community mental health and private practice, she helped found Renewal House, Nashville's most comprehensive residential recovery program for addicted women and their children. She has been honored for her work with Magdalene as a Center for Non-Profit Management “Board Member of the Year” award.

Additional speaker information will be available soon.


Contact Information

    Kim Fletcher

    Deb Markland

Payment Instructions

  • Cancellation Policy:
    A full refund (less our $8 online registration fee) is available through September 29, 2014. After September 29, all registration fees are non-refundable as we will have finalized our headcount for catering and materials. 

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