Positive Youth Mentors Become Youth Heros at The Embracing Project, A Rite of Passage Program

Positive Youth Mentors Become Youth Heros at The Embracing Project, A Rite of Passage Program

Shifting the Narrative, Empowering Survivors

Young survivors of trafficking often find themselves trying to rebuild their lives without a positive youth mentors. The mission of Makaya Swain and her team at The Embracing Project (TEP) is to provide the tools and support necessary for survivors to turn the page and begin writing a new story.

Positive Youth Mentors Become Youth Heros

When they visit the Drop-in Center for the first time, case managers use assessments to help the team understand each individual’s needs, such as therapy or mentoring, although the youth are not required to participate until they’re ready.

“When they come in, they’re not always ready to talk about their trauma,” explains Swain. “We have so many services that we can start with what they’re ready for and work our way to therapy.”

Some begin with credit recovery in the on-site school program. At TEP youth can work with a certified Special Education teacher twice a week and earn their HISET (high school equivalency) to begin planning a different future. 

L was one of the first clients to visit the Drop-in Center for therapy and parenting support as a teen mom. Disowned by family, she says the team at TEP “opened my eyes to the world and showed me that we’re all meant to have a significant life.”

Now 24, she still visits TEP with her son to reconnect with the community and mentors who supported her as she made a new life for herself. She says she’d like to work there one day, helping girls like herself.

“I thought she was going to pass through my life and that would be that,” she says of Swain, “but she’s still here in my life, helping me.” T came to TEP at sixteen, after a year on the run. She says she turned herself over to probation to get her life back on track. At TEP she found mentoring and help with high school credit recovery. Now T is studying to become a phlebotomist. “I’m not ashamed anymore about what happened,” she says. “I feel empowered, able to share my story with anyone.”

Both girls continue to visit, even when they don’t need anything, because they say it’s their safe place, where they learned how to give their own children a better future. Along with basic necessities, advocacy, and therapy, the TEP team helps clients with job readiness and resume building— even filing taxes.

Makaya has attended several graduation ceremonies in her years at TEP, sometimes holding a graduate’s baby as she cheers from the audience. “They don’t think it’s a big deal, but I say to them, ‘look at what you’ve done!’”

Positive Youth Mentors Become Youth Heros

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” — C.S. Lewis

In the News

The narrative around human trafficking is often sensationalized in the media, a practice that advocates say retraumatizes the children who have already been exploited. Reality tells a more familiar story of practical need—youth without food, shelter, or the support of caring adults to help them build a future. The Embracing Project wants to change the narrative and increase awareness while providing these services to youth in Las Vegas, work that has placed them in both the local and international spotlight.

In April, 2022, the Nevada State Legislature invited Executive Director Lawrence Howell and Program Director Makaya Swain to explain the issues around trafficking to the Nevada Joint Interim Health and Human Services Committee. Howell and Swain highlighted the intersection of homelessness and child sex trafficking, a connection that can only be solved through awareness and education, followed by services and safe shelter for these youth. Their recommendations for increased funding and services were well received by lawmakers.

TEP also received international recognition last year as the “2022 Charity of the Year,” awarded by the International Anti-Slavery Commission. This award holds special significance for the team, who were nominated and chosen by vote in an international community of professional peers, who considered TEP alongside larger national organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as Anti-Trafficking International.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, 24/7 confidential help is available. Call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733

This article, Positive Youth Mentors Become Youth Heros at The Embracing Project, was originally written as an article, Shifting the Narrative and Empowering Survivors, in our 2023 Rite of Passage Magazine. To read the full magazine please click here.