Sugar, Spice and Melissa Ice: Local Philanthropist Finds Herself While Investing in Others

Founder and executive director of The NET

If you asked Melissa Ice what she wanted to do a couple years ago, she would have said two things. One, adopt a baby. Two, provide employment. Just … not in retail.

One of those things went according to plan — late last year, she and her husband (musician and serial entrepreneur Jamey Ice) adopted a little girl named Justice June — while the other came half true. This year, Ice will be opening a boutique — yes, retail — in the Near Southside.

But it’s not your average funky Magnolia Avenue gift shop. The Worthy Co. — an extension of her nonprofit, The NET, which supports the homeless — has a mission to employ survivors of sex trafficking. The Worthy Co. currently borrows a 200-square-foot church classroom to hand-pour candles, make jewelry and create other products; when construction finishes on the new, 2,600-square-foot space, Ice is hoping for a fall opening.

Between The Worthy Co., The NET and every other project her family touches in Fort Worth, Ice stopped by Fort Worth Magazine to chat about her mission, personal goals and finding balance — or lack thereof.

Q. You originally wanted to become an actress. What made you decide to shift your career path?
A. There was definitely a shift when I spent a summer in Ghana. Whenever I came back, I had realized that a lot of what I was doing prior to that felt very self-involved and domesticated — just typical American dream. When I was in Ghana, I realized that life and beauty are really about people and relationships. It was the first time I had built relationships with people who were nothing like me, who had different backgrounds than me, and more importantly, despite their poverty, had so much joy … It wasn’t that I chose to start a nonprofit; I feel like I just decided to start chasing joy. I found more joy in being around and helping people who needed it most.

Q. What inspired you to start The Worthy Co.?
A. At The NET, we have been working with victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation since early 2012. We realized that in order to truly see someone’s life transformed over the long haul, they have to be economically independent. Otherwise, we’re setting people up, then watching them fall. We wanted them to make an official Tarrant County living wage, not based on their work history or experience or work skills they were bringing to the table, but based on providing them with the opportunity to live.

Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A. The hardest part is convincing others of people’s humanity — that they are people too. They are moms like me; they’re in survival mode. We’re all just a couple of bad decisions or a couple horrible circumstances away from being in a similar position, or we were just born in a different ZIP code. I’m like, “Why are we having to beg people to care about people?” That seems so contrary to being a kind human being.

Q. Hearing women’s stories and walking with them through recovery, how do you stay grounded emotionally?
A. Two ways. One is, I’ve seen the resilience in women and their ability to overcome the unthinkable. I’ve seen it happen over and over again, where their past doesn’t dictate their future. And then, my faith. I believe that God is the God of justice and mercy, and He is very intimately acquainted with people suffering. There’s hope in the fact that His desire is to see people redeemed and restored and renewed, and to live the life that He’s designed them to live. It doesn’t depend on me; I don’t have to be the savior and do it all — God is working things out for good, and He loves those women way more than I do.

Q. So you have The NET, The Worthy Co., BREWED, your family — how do you balance it all?
A. Balance is a myth; it doesn’t exist. The times that I’ve tried to achieve it, I have felt like a major failure. Instead, I’m trying to stay focused on what it means to do the next right thing and to be present wherever I am. So, if I’m at home playing with my little girls and putting on lip gloss with them, painting [my three-year-old] Rosie’s nails, or bouncing with [nine-month-old] Justice ... I just try to be present and not be thinking about work. Then, when I am at work, I try my very best to be the best leader and boss I can be.

Q. Speaking of your kids, you recently adopted a little girl, Justice. What’s the biggest thing you learned from the adoption process?
A. How beautiful and brave a birth mom or birth parents are. A lot of my job as an adoptive mom is to honor them and their decision. Jamey and I have an open adoption, so we have a really open relationship with Justice’s birth mom. I send her pictures; we email every other week. A lot of my job will be to do what I can just to honor her, reminding Justice how brave [her mom] is.

Q. Is there a personal goal you haven’t accomplished yet that you’d still like to do?
A. I would love to eventually write a book about the joy to be had in justice work and stories from the field, so to speak. There are so many beautiful stories to be told about the friends I’ve made on the bottom rungs of society and lessons I’ve learned from those in the margins — how, in the process of wanting people in need to feel seen, known and loved, I actually found myself.

Melissa's Essentials:

1. The Worthy Co. mug. Melissa needs her coffee!
2. Necklace. For Melissa’s adopted daughter, Justice June. One side of the necklace has her initials; the other side has the date her adoption was finalized.
3. Family photo. This was the Ices’ first photo as a family of four.
4. Headphones and earbuds. Melissa’s a podcast junkie. Rebecca Minkoff “GRL PWR” bag. Stores Melissa’s headphones.
5. Lipstick. Melissa loves lipstick and wears it every day.
6. Candle. Made by The Worthy Co.
7. Thistle Farms bath and body products. Thistle Farms is a sister organization that employs survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction.
8. Savhera essential oil. Bottled by women leaving brothels in Delhi.
9. Bulletproof bar. Melissa’s go-to snack.