March 9th, 2012
YouthCare. I remember a background interview I did with its executive director, Melinda Giovengo, in 2010, when I wanted to learn more about their work with prostituted juveniles. (below: Giovengo at YouthCare’s Orion Center)
Not one to mince words Giovengo said, and I’m paraphrasing, that in her 20 plus years in the aftercare industry, she found the busiest time for Seattle’s street kids engaging in sex work during the 1980’s was the lunch hour. That was when the Bellevue businessmen drove to the city for a quickie. Today the business isn’t much different, but its been redefined as human trafficking, opening the issue up to different resources.
Flash forward to 2011; an introduction from a mutual acquaintance put me in touch with Deborah Edison, Director of Development and Marketing. She doesn’t mince words either.
While the YouthCare’s human trafficking program is important, Edison is less interested in talking about prostituted juveniles than she is in promoting the YouthCare’s continuum of care. Since I see human trafficking as a symptom of greater issues, with homelessness and its lack of opportunity one of the root causes, I was immediately on board. Edison wanted me to help her update YouthCare’s image library, some of which was over 10 years old, so they could showcase their work in a new website.
Switching from journalist to non-profit photographer wasn’t hard, especially since I’m familiar with the issues YouthCare is addressing. “You get it,” Edison kept on saying. It helped that what I was doing was mostly showing reality, not manufacturing moments or interpreting reality. (at right: long term independent living)
YouthCare is more than an emergency shelter. YouthCare provides a continuum of care, starting with its street outreach van and continuing through temporary housing, education, job training, and long term housing. They also run the Bridge Program, which is the aftercare component to the human trafficking program the city runs.
The job required flexibility, the ability to work within a tight budget, to quickly connect with the youth, and devise creative visual solutions to the legal and ethical issues of working around a young homeless population.
Scheduling with the youth programs was difficult and was coordinated, through no small feat, by Edison’s assistant, Liz Trautman. It meant the shoots took place over a few months, bit by bit. Working with Pyramid Communications, Edison finalized the photo selection and the new website was launched in October of 2011.
It is rewarding to see my images helping communicate awareness about youth homelessness, especially knowing what some of these youth must work through to find stability and pursue their dreams. I also enjoyed the opportunity to document real solutions to some of the root causes of human trafficking, a subject I’ve worked on extensively.
As for that background interview with Giovengo for the project on prostituted juveniles? It’s still there, and I’m still looking for funding.
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