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I think it's most important to let them know that they are worthy.

For the last 4 years, Adriana has been employed as a youth worker with the Stop Exploiting Youth (SEY) team at Pacific Community Resources Society. It is the only program of its kind in Surrey.

“I work with youth between the ages of 13 and 18 that are in, or are at high risk of, sexually exploitative relationships.”

Adriana knows that the work is complicated. “When I was working with the housing program... I knew what the kids wanted. They needed a house . . . I’d help them get a house. This is so complex.” Some engage in sexual activities in exchange for basic necessities that many of us take for granted – money, food, clothing and shelter. And yes, drugs. Yet they do not always see themselves as being exploited. And, at times, they are reluctant to ask for help.

Adrianna describes the need to build a relationship with youth “where they are at” and bridge the gap to “where they want to be.” She is a mentor – a trusted confidante that young boys and girls can count on. “Sometimes the youth need the relationship with us before they feel comfortable engaging in a new relationship with somebody else…That is part of the exit strategy,” she explains. “I am trying to help these youth exit the sexually exploitive situations by building up other areas in their life where they can get support and feel confident.”

Adriana is careful not to stereotype. She says, “I don’t have a typical client. They are all so different. Every client is unique.” And so are their needs. Recently, the SEY team partnered with Surrey Women’s Centre to explore the needs of almost 200 at-risk young girls. While many report feeling shame and stigma, the one thing that they all have in common is the unconditional support of Adriana and the rest of her team.

Adriana describes her role as a youth worker: “I think it is most important to let them know that they are worthy - they are worthy of my time - they are worthy of my presence - they are worthy of sharing their story - they deserve to feel better.  I believe that the youth know that when I am spending time with them, it is not because it’s my job or because I’m getting paid to be there. It is because I really value and appreciate that they let me be in their lives. So I really honour that space.”

Looking back, she says“...because I have been here for seven years I’ve got to see some of these youth grow up, and turn into young adults. And they are still welcome to check in with us here at the centre. And so to see some of them want to be youth workers or counsellors because they just want to be help - that is success.”