Reaching Out to Help
Former prostitute now helps homeless women and men, sex trafficking victims and needy
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
October 10, 2019
ROCKFORD—“We’ve got the Catholics here, we’ve got the Lutherans here and now we’ve got the addicts and the prostitutes here,” quipped Carly Rice, founder of Miss Carly’s Community Outreach in Rockford.
Rice was referring to her prior life choices and to two others recovering from addiction who spoke of the help they received at her community outreach. 
She was the guest speaker at the 23rd annual Ecumenical Benefit Brunch, which drew a crowd of over 100 Catholics and Lutherans to Salem Lutheran Church in Rockford on Oct 5. 
Rice grew up homeless in Los Angeles’ “skid row.” She was addicted to drugs at the age of 13, worked as a prostitute, was sexually trafficked, lost her mother to murder, was raped and then witnessed the murder of the man who raped her. 
She was facing life in prison when a prominent Los Angeles attorney who had successfully prosecuted the man who murder Rice’s mother paid her a visit. 
“The lawyer said to me, ‘What the hell are you doing? You are wasting your life away in prison when you should be out there living,’ ” she said.
After being released from prison, Rice moved to Rockford determined to start a new life. 
She suffered a setback when a freak accident landed her in the emergency room where she was prescribed Vicodin for pain. Rice became addicted to the drug, and had two children who were born addicted to Vicodin.
“I was a bad mother,” Rice said. “I loathed myself for doing this to my kids. This was a deplorable and disgusting situation for me, because it perpetuated the mistakes that I had made in my life.”
Rice partially detoxed from her addiction on her own, but  also sought drug treatment. After getting her life back together, she wanted to help others in the same situation she had fought so hard to leave behind. 
Miss Carly’s Community Outreach operates out of Rice’s home at 1125 Fifth Ave., a building which was formerly used as a Buddhist Temple. 
Each week, she and her volunteers prepare and serve three meals, each time serving 200 of the less fortunate people in Rockford. 
Rice also has a donation room where dinner patrons can receive clothing, shoes and personal hygiene items. 
Caring for her neighbors doesn’t stop with a meal and some personal items. 
Rice and her crew hand out over 1,200 sack lunches each week at any hour of the day or night, no questions asked, to sexually trafficked women who knock on her door. They seek food, an encouraging word or assistance in leaving life on the street, she said. 
The outreach has also helped people with drug and alcohol dependencies receive admission to treatment facilities. 
“I feel like I am turning my failures into assets,” Rice said. “I’ve found what matters most for me and I’ve been chasing it with reckless abandon.”
Miss Carly’s Community Outreach is funded through private donations of money, food, clothing and hygiene items. 
Those attending the annual brunch brought items to donate to Rice’s outreach. Thrivent Financial, formerly Lutheran Brotherhood, purchased $250 worth of supplies for Miss Carly’s.
The brunch was co-sponsored by the Rockford Deanery Council of Catholic Women and the Northern Illinois Synod North Conference Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Msgr. Thomas Dzielak, spiritual advisor to the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women gave a history of the ecumenical brunch and offered the closing prayer.
“Ecumenism doesn’t mean that people give up what they believe, just that they find common ground in those ideas that we share,” Msgr. Dzielak said.
The brunch was served after an opening prayer and table blessing by Lutheran Bishop Jeffery Clements, of the Northern Illinois Synod, Evangelical Lutherans in America.