Paying It Forward: Lake Charles Store All About Giving Back

LAKE CHARLES, LA (AP) — Shawn Cardin made an income on Broad Street for 22 years. Today, instead of using her body to make a profit, she is using her heart and giving back. Leaving her life of prostitution behind, Cardin now feeds, clothes and showers love on women who are still entangled in the sex trade. Through her ministry, I Am Loved, she is able to reach out to others who are walking the same path she once did. Cardin's new thrift shop, the I Am Loved Ministry Store, opened Sept. 28 at 1832 Broad St. The store sells donated clothing, shoes, books, home decor items, jewelry and furniture. All proceeds go to the ministry.

         Cardin, now 45, fell into prostitution at age 19. She had a 3-year-old daughter at the time and was living at the Calcasieu Women's Shelter. Baby-sitting was provided for her daughter while Cardin looked for a job. She found one at a nightclub on Broad Street.

         At that club, which is no longer in business, she soon learned that her job duties encompassed more than "sitting at the bar and looking pretty," as she was first told. It was here she first entered the sex trade. She said she was never forced into it. It just happened. It was easy money for a woman who needed it desperately. Shortly after, she began abusing illegal drugs and became wrapped up in that, too.

         During these years, she spent a lot of time on Broad Street, making a living by selling her body. Sunday mornings were her busiest times, she said.

         Cardin became immersed in a way of life from which she found it hard to escape. She would sober up for four or five months, think of getting out, and then get right back into it. It was around 2000, she said, when she first felt a tug that she needed God, but that didn't happen for a while.

         In 2007 she met Gerald Cardin in a drug house. A short time after that, he drove up to a corner on Broad Street where she was working one night and asked her if she needed a ride. She accepted his offer. They talked. They connected. For the first time, she said, she felt she had found a man who cared for her.

         "He told me, 'I don't have much, but I'll give you everything I have,' " she said.

         Around this time, she began attending a church, Church of the King on Oak Park Boulevard, a church that accepted her as she was, she said.

         In 2008, she and Gerald Cardin got married there. After that, he worked while she stayed home and read her Bible and watched a lot of programming on Trinity Broadcasting Network on their small black-and-white television.

         "It (her faith walk) snowballed from there," she said.

         Off the streets and out of her old life, Cardin could not forget the women who were still out there. She said she felt God's call to reach out to them and show them his love, and her ministry was born.

         She recounts on the ministry website,, that she felt led to bring a few bags of feminine hygiene products to the women she had worked with on the streets. Sitting at her mother's kitchen table, she wrote "I am loved" on the outside of the brown paper bags to encourage the women to ask, "Why am I loved?" It would be at that point she could share the hope and encouragement she'd found, she said.

         The thrift store evolved from what was supposed to be a garage sale to benefit the ministry. She was getting so many donations, she felt called to open a store. "I envisioned this building (where the thrift store is located) before I saw it," she said.

         She has help. Her daughter, Amy Pippin, works alongside her mother in the store. "She's my backbone," said Cardin. "We walk with 30 girls right now. We love them where they are. My heart is to get a home for them. We are in our baby steps," she said.

         Cardin's goal is to rent a house for four to eight of the women. By getting 50 people to pledge $25 a month, she can make that happen, she said.

         "These women get out of jail for prostitution and they have no place to go," said Cardin.

         Cardin said she wants to bring enlightenment to these women. "There is a shame in what they're doing. No one wants to talk about it."

         To help, people can donate time, money or items to sell at the store, or they can shop at the store. Store hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 1-5 p.m. Wednesday; and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

         Wednesday mornings are reserved for delivering fresh produce and hygiene items to women. The store is closed Sunday and Monday.

         – by AP/ Reporter Donna Price with American Press

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