We envision a world where no child is bought, sold, or abused. We provide cutting edge services, education, and advocacy to combat youth trafficking, exploitation, and abuse.

The youthSpark Story

youthSpark was founded in 2000 as the Juvenile Justice Fund, an independent nonprofit organization with a focus on providing real solutions for vulnerable children and families affected by courts.

Over time, we've expanded our work to include policy advocacy and research, to lead change in the community. We also provide comprehensive wrap-around services to address trauma and vulnerabilities for girls, boys, and LGBTQ youth in our Center. 

Today, we serve 150+ youth annually, ages 12 and over, with complex cases and needs each year with one mission in mind: to spark a bright future.

Our most vulnerable youth continue to be at the core of what we have focused upon since our partnership with youthSpark began, making strides to serve them in ways that we had not considered in the past.”

– Honorable Juliette W. Scales, Chief Presiding Judge, Fulton County Juvenile Court
Early 2000s

Courthouse beginnings

The youthSpark journey began as the Juvenile Justice Fund in the early 2000s when young girls repeatedly appeared before former Juvenile Court Judge Nina Hickson with prostitution charges, and were then treated like criminals. She and founding Executive Director Deborah Richardson, alongside other community leaders sparked Georgia's first response to sex child trafficking, leading to community outcry and legislative changes.

2001

Providing a home for girls

We opened and operated the first safe house in the Southeast region of the United States – Angela's House – for girls ages 11-17 who were in need of critical services and a safe haven from the adults who exploited them. In 2010, youthSpark transitioned Angela's House to the full management of Youth Villages.

2006

Unapologetic awareness

Led by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, youthSpark (then the Juvenile Justice Fund), law enforcement, and others created the Dear John educational awareness campaign to bring the topic of sex trafficking to the forefront in the community. Shirley Franklin is the first Atlanta mayor to focus on this issue. The Dear John campaign is widely regarded as a historic step by a public official in fearlessly acknowledging the need for a comprehensive approach.

2008

Teaching others to look

Through the launch of the first coordinated statewide awareness effort, our “A Future. Not a Past.” Campaign (AFNAP), youthSpark hosted Georgia's first Lobby Day at the State Capitol, successfully advocating for tougher laws, higher penalties and victim protections. After the successful passage of Senate Bill 69, we trained over 400 mandatory reporters across the state, in partnership with the Junior League of Atlanta and others, on exploitation as a reportable form of child abuse. During this time, we began developing our train-the-trainer program specifically geared towards law enforcement and community volunteers.

2009

Creating a new research methodology

In 2009, we commissioned a nationwide count on victimized children. Shortly after, we commissioned research profiling buyers and the demand for child sex trafficking - The Georgia Demand Study. This initial research methodology and other components of our campaign were replicated nationally through the Women’s Funding Network. Other research studies commissioned over the years include our groundbreaking “Adolescent Males in Metro Atlanta and Their Buyers.”

2009

Training law enforcement

By partnering with officers who routinely investigated these cases, we developed training and education which shifted law enforcement's response to identifying youth appropriately, disrupting practices that led to the adultification of exploited and trafficked minors, victim blaming, and targeting the real perpetrators through demand efforts. We trained 3400+ officers in 51 counties through 2011.

2010

Reactive vs Proactive Approach

youthSpark shifted our focus to reaching potential victims as early as possible, creating Georgia's first early intervention program in partnership with Juvenile Court. Our Voices Program still operates today for girls in need of community-based service in Fulton County and we have since used this early intervention framework to create programs for boys and LGBTQ+ youth in our Center.

2016

A safe place for teens

Through the support of our generous donors, we officially cut the ribbon on our Youth Services Center inside Fulton County Juvenile Court on the 2nd floor. The newly designed space allows us to serve more youth and offer basic care items, including toiletries, clothings, and more, through the boutique-style Dream Closet. The Center also provides access to food, computers, a small library, and a resource information wall. Specialized weekly group sessions are held in the Center's Opportunity Room, equipped with a state of the art interactive Smart Board, journaling and vision boarding supplies, and karaoke machine!

Take a virtual tour
2018

Leading systems change for LGBTQ+ youth

In partnership with Georgia Equality, youthSpark launched the Court's very first training focusing on LGBTQ+ youth. Upon being accepted into Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform Fellowship program, we began to analyze and understand how we can create systemic change. Our four-year capstone project offers a roadmap for evidence-based policies and practices to cultivate a fair, inclusive, and respectful culture in the justice system. This includes a multi-year assessment of LGBTQ+ inclusivity and implementation of non-discrimination policies and trainings for court staff/partners, helping kids identify allies and safe-spaces, and community-based alternatives to incarceration.

Today

More than 600 youth continue to rely on our Youth Services Center for healing, advocacy, and support.

We are proud to go beyond helping our kids recover, but also igniting a spark to help them achieve their dreams and turn their trials into triumph!
Learn about our work

Our team

Jennifer Swain, Executive Director

Jennifer Swain is one of the driving forces of youthSpark. She oversees the organization and leads strategic development, administration, and services implementation at youthSpark. For almost 13 years, she has served in several executive capacities, including youthSpark’s Deputy Director, where she led the design and vision of the agency's early intervention model and the Youth Services Center.

She offers training and technical assistance to various groups to address proactive responses to youth sexual exploitation, including presentations to local and national conferences on best practices and advocacy initiatives.

Jennifer is a founding member of the Georgia Statewide Trafficking Task Force—formerly serving as the Chair for the Keeping At-Risk Youth Safe work group. She routinely provides expert witness testimony in trafficking cases. In 2018, she was named the City of Atlanta's first "Amazing Atlantan" under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms highlighting nonprofit leaders in Atlanta working to make a difference in the community.

jswain@youth-spark.org

Program and Clinical Staff

Executive Team

Tonnisha LaSalle, M.A.
Operations Director
Renee Shelby, PhD
Research Director

Youth Services Team

Dorsey Jones, B.A.
Case Manager
Jazmine Reliford, MSW
Case Manager
Keianna Porche
Program Coordinator

Board of Directors

Hyacinth Edwards

Board Co-Chair, Governance/Finance Committee
FHLBank of Atlanta, Sr. Credit Risk Specialist

Christopher Wilbanks

Board Co-Chair, Fundraising Committee
The Robert & Polly Dunn Foundation, Trustee

Tiffiny Robinson, Esq.

Treasurer, Fundraising Committee
Morgan & Morgan, Trial Attorney

Barbara Rose

Governance Committee Chair
New Generation Partnerships, President

Vince Phillips, Esq.

Marketing Committee Co-Chair
The Law Office of Vince P. Phillips, Owner

Devika Rao

Marketing Committee Co-Chair
O'Neill Communications, President

Sara Yeglin

Marketing Committee Co-Chair
CNN International, Director of Planning

Charlotte Bohn

Program Committee
Alston & Bird, Associate

Kim Brannan-Sykes

Fundraising Committee
Brannan Sports Enterprise LLC, Owner

Heather Prill

Program Committee
The Home Depot Foundation, Sr. Philanthropist

Funders

Partners

Haven Atlanta
Accenture
Alston + Bird, LLP
Atlanta CASA
Chick-fil-A Foundation
Child Advocacy Centers of Georgia
Coca-Cola
Covenant House Georgia
Emory Law Barton Child Law and Policy Center
Emory Rollins School of Public Health
FHLBank of Atlanta
Fulton County
GAIN
Georgia State University Sociology
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
International Human Trafficking Institute
Keri Hilson Foundation
Most Valuable Kids
Tapestri
The Fulton-Dekalb Hospital Authority
The Junior League of Atlanta
United Way of Greater Atlanta
VoxATL
Wholistic Stress Control Institute