San Diego

Inspiring San Diego: Teens Propose Solutions to Stop Youth Sex Trafficking

The program is a part of Smart City Saturday

Dozens of teenagers from across the county came together for a challenge: to find solutions to a big problem.

The event is called a "Hackathon," which is a part of Smart City Saturday.

The issue they discussed on October 24 was youth sex trafficking. It was held at San Diego’s Central Library.

The event’s founder, Sarah Hernholm, said the event aims at bringing young people from all different walks of life together to solve problems that impact them.

The teenagers involved in the event said at the end of the day there was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment.

“You actually did something very amazing in a span of, like, six hours with, like, five kids,” said Diego Martinez, a participant from Hemet.

When the day begins many of the nearly 50 teens don’t know each other.

“At first there's, like, that hesitation that, like, what's happening, who are these people, and then the next thing you know they're sharing ideas and talking and they're connecting,” Hernholm said.

The teenagers are put into groups, each led by a coach from a local university.

They received a crash course on the topic and even heard from survivors of sex trafficking.

Jordan Bockert, a student from Santee, said the personal testimonies from survivors were especially impactful. “It was amazing,” she said. “It was so breathtaking to hear from actual survivors, ‘thrivers,’ and actually get to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

The experience was emotional and empowering for the young people.

Hernholm said making these connections helps inspire ideas. “So first they connect, and then the inspiration comes for the solution,” she said.

The groups prepare their ideas that they then present and defend before a panel of judges.

NBC 7’s Monica Dean served on the panel of judges, along with leaders from Breaking the Silence Together, PCI Global, Shyne San Diego, Social Impact and Innovation UCSD, and North County Lifeline.

Gracie Semmens, a student from Pacific Beach said she now knows how to recognize the warning signs of sex trafficking and will be more empowered to speak up in the future: “We're capable of making a change we're not voiceless,” she said.

The presentations from the teenagers included the following ideas:

  • A social media campaign
  • A public service announcement
  • An interactive video game that creates awareness
  • Updating school curriculum educating kids about trafficking & how to spot it
  • Distributing the national trafficking hotline number in bracelets, stickers, and hygiene products
  • An app that uses music and mapping tools to improve mental health and access to resources

Smart City Saturday is teaching teens a powerful and inspiring lesson: that their voice matters.

“I just want teens to know that they are loved, valued, and that their ideas should be heard, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens,” Hernholm said.

Smart City Saturday is hosted by Whatever It Takes (WIT). WIT is a one-of-a-kind college credit social entrepreneur course offered to high school students.

The program was launched in San Diego but will soon be offered in several other cities across the United States.

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