Member Spotlight: Project Protect Our Children


In recognition of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, TNOYS is proud to spotlight Project Protect Our Children and their amazing work in Texas. Denise Mears, Founder and Executive Director, answered a few questions about the work their organization is doing below.

Project Protect Our Children is a 501c3 dedicated to preventing child sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse through proactive community engagement, preventative educational programs, awareness, and empowerment opportunities. They offer a range of human trafficking awareness and training presentations to educate various audiences, from education professionals to youth, parents, and more. PPOC works to empower youth to become part of the solution through their flagship Youth Action Board program, a student-led anti-human trafficking club program for middle and high school students, and their E3 Professional Development Day workshops for justice-involved, at-risk, and/or CSEY youth.

How does Project Protect Our Children work to prevent child sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse? Tell me about your plan to engage, educate, and empower young people. 

We believe that our youth can become champions in the fight to end Human Trafficking if only given the opportunity.  The Youth Action Board (YAB) was conceptualized to engage, educate, and empower today’s youth to become part of the solution in the fight to end human trafficking.  It is a student-led/student-driven anti-human trafficking club program for schools and youth groups with different variations for Middle and High School youth.  Through the program, YAB Members are given the opportunity to answer the call to action, encouraged to use their passion to make a difference, and given the platform for their voice to be heard, creating positive societal change within their school and community utilizing the power of youth voice. 

Our Youth Action Board program engages, educates, and empowers a new generation of leaders to become advocates for justice, dignity, and safety for all. 

Since 2020, YAB members have brought human trafficking awareness to over 16,500 of their peers, school staff, and community members through various activities and events they conceptualized, planned, implemented, and/or spoke at. Youth Action Board Members have received numerous awards for their efforts to raise human trafficking awareness from Congress, the Attorney General’s office, Governor Abbott, and others, with 12 YAB members earning Presidential Volunteer Service Awards, which all YAB members are eligible for.  

How does Project Protect Our Children work with youth and young adults who are experiencing child sex trafficking, exploitation, or abuse? Tell me about the various programs and activities your organization provides for youth of different ages/needs.

In addition to our Youth Action Board program, we work to empower youth involved in the juvenile justice system to make positive decisions for a successful future through our specialized E3 Professional Development Day program.  A high percentage of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have experienced trafficking, exploitation, and/or abuse.  Researchers have attributed recidivism to a number of factors, including inadequate skills necessary for employment.  During the day-long event filled with multiple workshops, speakers, and skill-building activities, Project Protect Our Children engages youth with opportunities to find their strengths, interests, and talents, educates them with the knowledge they need to succeed in real-world employment scenarios, and connects empowered youth to community stakeholders that could assist as they set their goals for the future. 

Tell us about your Youth Action Board! How are youth and their voices included in the work your organization does?

The Youth Action Board (YAB) program was developed to harness the power of youth voice!   The YAB is a collective body of students with diverse perspectives, experiences, identities, and cultural differences that come together to work towards the same shared goal. Once YAB members complete their in-depth training, they collectively collaborate, brainstorm, and reflect on solutions and event ideas to fill identified gaps that allow human trafficking to persist and raise awareness about human trafficking amongst their peers, educators, and community. The YAB board itself is student-led/driven.  Human trafficking campaigns, events, and activities that are created and championed by students can undoubtedly reach and impact their peers at a level that cannot be attained otherwise. Their school campus and community provide the platform for the board members’ voices to be heard and the audience to hear them.

The Youth Action Board program is educator-developed, age-appropriate, research-based, survivor-informed, trauma-informed, and available to school campus sponsors AT NO COST through our online Community of Practice (CoP) platform.  The online CoP is a powerful space for collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst the YAB campus sponsors, harnessing their collective intelligence while providing invaluable resources for sustainable impact across the nation within our schools and communities. We even provide school club sponsors with a stipend!

What are some of the challenges the youth of Texas face that your organization is helping to address?

Commercial sexual exploitation of youth (CSAM, sextortion, trafficking, etc.) is among the most underreported and unrecognized challenges our youth face today. We provide prevention programs for various audiences and ages that are developed to increase safeguards and prevent child sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse by increasing protective capacity and reducing risks and vulnerabilities within the youth’s environment through strengthening understanding and increasing knowledge. Knowledge spreads awareness; awareness is key to prevention and identification. Additionally, understanding that victim identification can directly result from prevention programming, a key goal for all of our programs is to build skills responsive to suspected or disclosed CSEY. Ensuring connection to supportive resources for CSEY is paramount.

Safe community, good friends, and inspiring connections are elements that can drastically improve a youth’s quality of life and the trajectory of their story. They’re also the elements that are hardest to come by. The Youth Action Board program provides all three while allowing the youth themselves to be that support for someone else.  

Which community partnerships have helped you move your work forward? Be sure to include connections made as a TNOYS member if you can!

We want to thank those who helped us advance our mission and move our work forward in 2023: Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom S. Ramsey P.E, and his remarkable staff, Kellye Turner, and the Office of the Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team, Texas Network of Youth Services, Greater Houston Police Activity League, and Education Service Centers 4, 8 and 15.

Tell us about a recent win and/or any special projects you’d like to uplift.

From the first year we launched the Youth Action Board program in High Schools, we received multiple districts’ requests for a Middle School version. In 2023, we secured the funding and completed the program build.  Special Thanks to Overcomer AR, Overcomer Evelyn Ralph, Overcomer of Human Trafficking, and the many educators who shared their lived experiences and expertise to improve and inform our program. This month, we launched the Middle School Youth Action Board Program to empower 7th- and 8th-grade youth to use their voices and join the fight. We are excited to empower even more students to become part of the solution to end human trafficking!  

What are Project Protect Our Children’s plans for the future?

Since the first Youth Action Board member graduated High School in 2021, YAB members have wanted to continue their efforts in college and asked us to help them do it.  In 2024, with the assistance and collaboration of previous Youth Action Board members, we will build out the college version of the YAB program. 

One of our goals is to provide other youth-serving organizations and NPOs with the opportunity to grow the youth-driven anti-human trafficking movement to create positive change in their schools and communities through the Youth Action Board Program. As a Youth Action Board Advisor, they can take the fully replicable, scalable, and sustainable Youth Action Board club program to their area!

The Youth Action Board program is PPOC’s second program to go national in 2024!  We will be engaging, educating, and empowering youth across the nation to become part of the solution in the fight to end human trafficking. 

If you are a current member interested in being spotlighted at TNOYS, please email Click here to learn more about becoming a TNOYS member!

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