January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which is timely because Yates County became an official Safe Harbour County this month.

The Yates County Youth Bureau and the Department of Social Services were approved to receive the funds through the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) Safe Harbour Program. The funding will continue for a five year period, and is designed to provide services, create resources, increase awareness and educate the community about the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) and Human Trafficking.  In the two years prior to receiving this new funding, the Yates County Youth Bureau had received a seed grant from OCFS and began a partnership with Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, who then began to work diligently in the community to develop awareness on these important issues.

Alicia Avellaneda, Yates County Youth Bureau Director, and Jannine Phillips, the Program Coordinator for Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, will continue to be the coordinators for this new initiative.

“An integral key to our success was the creation of a full-time Human Trafficking Specialist, Mollie Kenerson,” says Avellaneda. Kenerson, who is also bi-lingual, provides on-going advocacy and case management services to youth and adults who are referred as victims of Trafficking/Exploitation or are considered to be high risk.

Safe Harbors has also implemented the Love146/Not a #Number curriculum in all the Yates County school districts. This curriculum is designed to be an awareness and prevention tool for youth ages 12 to 18 in a classroom or other group setting. This program is effective because it focuses on peer engagement while giving youth information, education and awareness that they might not otherwise receive.

The team has also provided several awareness trainings to various individual organizations within the county.

“Our most successful awareness event to date was our first Human Trafficking/CSEC Conference at the Esperanza Mansion on Oct. 2, 2019. There were over 90 people in attendance for workshops from The Potters Hand, Finger Lakes Community Health, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and a survivor speaker. We plan to have an annual conference that will continue to increase education and awareness on this topic in our community,” says Avellaneda.

The team has created an Anti-Trafficking Taskforce which first met in September of last year. The taskforce has a Critical Team with representatives from law enforcement, probation, public health, DSS/CPS, Child Advocacy Center, DA office, legislature and both school districts. The taskforce will meet quarterly.

For more information regarding the Anti-Trafficking Program, contact Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes at 315-536-9654. The 24 Hour Crisis Hotline Number is: 800-247-7273.