OAKLAND (CBS 5) – Nationally, the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old. This week’s Jefferson Award winner co-founded an organization that helps these children get off the streets. Kate Kelly reports on the woman who’s made it her mission to remind people these kids need support.

Close to two million children run away from home each year and within 48 hours, a teenager that runs away from home will be approached by a pimp. Trouble finds these children much like trouble found 21-year-old Withelma Ortiz-Macey who likes to be called “T” for short.

“T” knows the streets of Oakland well since for years she worked them, starting at the age of 10. “I grew up in the foster care system and had a lot of abuse and neglect within the foster care system, so I basically diverted to the streets.”

She might have stayed there had she not met Nola Brantley. “I needed encouraging adults, resources, and programs,” she says. “I needed the idea that there was more to life than the streets.”

Nola helped “T” discover a better life thru the non-profit MISSSEY, which stands for motivating, inspiring, supporting and serving sexually exploited youth. As a co-founder, Nola provides holistic services for child victims of human trafficking.

“The very first thing that folks don’t get is that there is no such thing as a child or teen prostitute period, end of story,” Nola says. “These children are victims of abuse in their exploitation situation.”

Nola got the idea to start MISSSEY three years ago while working at an Oakland social service agency where she saw more and more girls were being exploited on the streets and over the Internet. “If they are victims then we want them to recover and become survivors. We have to process them through the system as victims, not criminals,” Nola urges.

In “T’s” case, not only did she choose to change her life, she now works for MISSSEY as a peer counselor. “Back in the day when I experienced my street life, I didn’t have any goals, but now I have so many goals I can’t keep up with it,” she says.

MISSSEY’s volunteers and mentors have helped not only “T,” but many others. Studies show 90- percent of kids in case management go on to get their GEDs, which is the first step towards success.

“I might not see what I want to achieve in my lifetime, but that’s not what it’s about you know, it’s about knowing that each day what I do when I get up is contributing to somebody else’s possibility of success,” Nola says.

So for giving girls the support they need to build new lives, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Nola Brantley.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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