Atherton resident Jessica Bird, 18, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2014 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Selected from a field of more than 30,000 youth volunteers from across the country, Jessica earned the title of National Honoree, along with a personal award of $5,000, an engraved gold medallion, a crystal trophy for her school, and a $5,000 grant from the Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of her choice.
Also honored this week in Washington, D.C., was Claudia Moysset, 13, of Los Angeles. Claudia (right in photo) and Jessica (center) were named California’s top youth volunteers in February, and were officially recognized on Monday (5/5/14) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History along with the top two youth volunteers from other states and the District of Columbia. They received personal congratulations from Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker (left).
Jessica, a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory, is a dedicated advocate for young sex-trafficking victims around the world. Last year she led a team to Costa Rica, returning to a safe house for young victims of sex trafficking she had first visited during a church trip to Costa Rica. On that first trip, she became friends with a girl whose father began prostituting her when she was 12 years old.
After returning home, Jessica invited the girl to her home and hosted a fundraiser that collected $29,000 for the safe house. But only two weeks later, Jessica learned that the young woman, who had no other stable source of income, had returned to a life of prostitution. It was then that Jessica realized that the problem of sex trafficking could not be solved by money alone.
Jessica set out to educate herself about the global issue of child prostitution and then started educating others, including her school community and Girl Scout troop. As a youth delegate to the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, she helped facilitate an all-youth tribunal and addressed U.N. Assembly members on the issue. Then, when her church cancelled its annual service trip to the Costa Rican safe house, Jessica recruited five friends and three adults to make the trip on their own.
While there, her team built a chicken coop, refurbished a greenhouse, and created a job training program so that the six girls at the safe house would not have to fall back into prostitution. The girls also were taught how to cook healthy meals, sell produce at a farmers’ market, manage money, and exercise leadership and responsibility skills. “These are the skills they need to know for a life beyond prostitution, skills that my friend did not possess,” said Jessica.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a national youth recognition program sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).