Introducing our 2018/2019 Grant Partner: youthspark
Many organizations over the past few years have taken a stand against human trafficking. One of those, though, stands out above the rest. Located in one of the biggest hubs for human trafficking, youthSpark is a visionary in changing the face of human trafficking and child exploitation rates in Atlanta, GA, and all over the United States. Over the years, it has addressed the commercial exploitation of children and has brought improved understanding to this subject. It provides investigative research, policy advocacy, and training because its staff knows how important it is to address the measurable impact of child exploitation.
Jennifer Swain is the Executive Director of youthSpark, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chat with her. I was blown away by her wisdom, compassion, and huge desire to change the world.
Is trafficking something you have always been passionate about? If not, what made you decide to pursue this passion?
Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about trafficking until I started working at youthSpark in 2008, but I've always been passionate about teenagers and supporting them when they have to overcome tough challenges. When I learned about the mission and the journey of the girls, I wanted to do whatever I could to help.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced serving as the Executive Director of youthSpark?
One of the biggest challenges I face as the Executive Director is educating our community, funders, and others on the importance of prevention and early intervention. There is indeed a lot of support for those victims who have been rescued, but it's really important to take a proactive approach as well. If we can intervene with youth before they are exploited, we can save time, trauma, and funds. We believe it's critical to connect with those organizations who serve high-risk youth, such as juvenile courts and schools, so that we can provide assistance and education to help ensure they are never bought and sold for sex in the first place.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
My favorite part about what I do is seeing our kids learn a new skill and experience new opportunities. Helping them explore new ideas, especially skills and things that can help them become a successful adult, makes me really happy!
Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this job?
As the Executive Director, I am responsible for executing the strategic plan and managing day-to-day operations of the agency. I don't get to engage with the kids as much as I used to and I miss that. But I let them know when I'm going to meetings that I'm working to ensure they have wonderful team members available to help them in our Center, provide food to eat, support them with transportation to weekly support groups, and access to empowerment opportunities and resources. I raise money to keep the organization running and share about our work with dedicated community members and groups just like the Bobbie Bailey Foundation.
Other than the Bobbie Bailey Foundation, how have you partnered with other organizations in the past?
We have a great track record of partnering with both public and private entities, and our community partners are so very critical in helping us achieve our mission to advocate for youth in need of legal adult protection in abusive and exploitative situations. One of our main partners, the Fulton County Juvenile Court, allows us to train court personnel effectively in order to identify youth who are victims of exploitation and other abuse and refer them to our Youth Services Center. We also partner with various community-based organizations to help us extend our reach - offering parenting, life skills workshops, and other pro-social activities. Many civic and social groups, including teen groups, help us in variety of ways:
Hosting toiletry drives to keep our Dream Closet filled for our kids;
Volunteering in our Youth Services Center;
Serving as Community Ambassadors to educate their friends, family and networks;
Providing meals or resources to one of our weekly support groups;
Hosting fundraisers and “friendraisers” in benefit of youthSpark programs.
How do you hope to expand youthSpark in the next few years?
It is my goal to help create a replicable early intervention model for other juvenile courts and youth-serving systems to use, so that youth experiencing trauma will have support they need.
What’s one thing about yourself you want readers to know?
I want readers to know that there is nothing special about me, and that anyone can make a difference in the lives of youth who experience abuse and exploitation. I invite anyone to connect with me to learn how!
Raise your voice against slavery this December!
Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!
About the Author
Hannah Blair is a psychology major with an end goal of counseling survivors of human trafficking, such as herself. She is currently pursuing a certification in Biblical counseling and is excited to be a part of Dressember! She enjoys running, cooking, and most importantly, napping.