They told her she always smiled. They told her to push her limits. They told her that by doing so she inspired others to join her efforts. Together, Lauren Kalogridis’s dance teacher, art teacher and family of seven provided a netwo
rk of supportive mentors, but upon leaving her small Floridian town for life in the Big City, Kalogridis was consumed by loneliness.
Kalogridis checked out many different clubs her freshman year in search of community, but only one remembered her name. She joined that club, and four years later, as a senior in the Silver School of Social Work, Kalogradis is not only still in Against Child Trafficking, she has taken on the role of president. Now, striving every day to build community, Kalogradis has found her place at NYU — fighting for social justice and educating young people as a founding member of the social venture Youth Take Charge.
Kalogridis became president of Against Child Trafficking her sophomore year. During this time her naïve curiosity about the horrors of human trafficking evolved into a conscious realization that she could bring more attention to the crimes often neglected victims.
“I really believe this is an issue that can come to light in our generation,” Kalogridis said. “I am not in the position to be changing policies right now, but I am in the position to be getting young people involved and aware of this issue.”
Kalogridis works to expand Against Child Trafficking’s activism. She partnered with Freedom Week NYC in 2010 and 2011 to host events that brought together a coalition against human trafficking. She drew over 450 students in October 2011 to hear humanitarian and sex slave survivor Somaly Mam speak. In April 2012, 50 people attended her free screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” a documentary about slave labor in chocolate production.
Mam’s book “The Road of Lost Innocence” inspired Kalogridis and seven other Against Child Trafficking members’ newest venture: Youth Take Charge. This team of NYU students wanted to raise young people’s awareness, so they developed curricular materials aiming to bring anti-trafficking education to high schools in New York City.
“I think high schoolers are looking for something to define themselves,” Kalogridis explained. “And if you introduce activism and community involvement to them at that age … it can be a very powerful mode of self-expression.”
In April 2012, the project received the top award of ‘Best Overall Venture’ in the Reynolds Changemaker Challenge and was awarded $7,800 to carry out the idea. At the end of November, five schools contacted YTC to present workshops. After the workshops are presented, YTC hopes to engage students in 12-week long mentorships and deepen their understandings of human trafficking.
To Kalogridis, it is important for high school students to be aware of the issue because it is something that affects teenagers nationwide. In 2011, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 19,427 phone calls, 696 of which originated in New York, where at least 129 potential trafficking situations were discovered.
“It’s never going to be solved if we don’t talk about it and I think that awareness is the first step,” Kalogridis said.
In addition to her positions with YTC and Against Child Trafficking, Kalogridis also interns at Claremont International High School in the Bronx, where all of the students immigrated to the United States within the past year.
“I just think about how … as a youth worker, I come at it from a lot different angles [such as] social work and as an activist and as an artist,” Kalogridis reflectively said. “I’ve had some really great experiences working with young people … where I’ve just been the happiest, most inspired and most fulfilled.”
Motivated by the students she works with, Kalogridis will remain invested with YTC after graduation. She wants to attend graduate school or continue working with children and impacting the community.
“I wake up every morning smiling … not because I’m excited about my hour commute,” Kalogridis said, “but because I’m excited to know that I’m working as part of a team.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 13th print edition. Emily McDermott is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org