27, New Day Program Manger at New Avenues for Youth
2022 Prize Winner
Kat Salas never thought she’d have a social worker-type job. She also never thought she’d live to age 27, either, but here she is at the Nite Hawk Cafe & Lounge on North Interstate Avenue on a Friday afternoon when the fancy coffee shop across the street is unexpectedly closed. “This is more my vibe anyway,” she says.
Salas is program manager for New Day, an arm of the nonprofit New Avenues for Youth. Since its founding in 2018, New Day has served about 450 youth ages 12 to 25 who are being sex trafficked or are at risk for sexual exploitation.
New Day helps youth leave their traffickers and end substance use, but also assists with other life and safety goals. This could include getting a driver’s license, housing, vocational training, mental health services, clean needles, fentanyl test strips, or groceries.
“We’re trying to work ourselves out of the job,” Salas says. “We’re trying to get folks to a place of independence and stability where they don’t need us anymore.”
Just a few years ago, Salas herself would have been eligible for New Day services. Instead, Salas transitioned out of the sex trades at age 23 by getting her tattoo license. Just as she was building momentum in her new career, though, the pandemic shut down all tattoo shops. She applied for an outreach job at New Day even though she had never had a job on paper in her life.
“Kat’s lived experience and equity lens to envision and enact change sets her apart from anyone else I’ve met in my 12 years of this work,” says Sarah Nedeau, director of community-based programs at New Avenues for Youth.
Salas envisioned a transitional housing model for clients in the New Day program Butterfly House—the first of its kind in Oregon. Four people at a time can stay for up to 16 months at Butterfly House; rent, utilities and food are provided. Case managers help with conflict resolution and long-term housing plans. It’s all about building more options for the residents. “You can say no if your rent is covered in a way you cannot say no if your rent’s not covered,” Salas says.
She considers her work at New Day a “radical eulogy” to the people she met in the sex trades who did not make it out. She is alive, she says, because of the women who took care of her when she was a young adult—giving her advice, affirmations, lash glue and baby wipes in strip club dressing rooms.
“Now, I get to work with people who understand some of my pain and struggle, but we also get to work together to problem-solve these really broken parts of the system,” she says. “I can’t imagine a job that someone could offer me that I would like more than my job.” - Rachel Saslow
Skidmore Prizes are sponsored by Comcast