When Paula Clapp was presented with the opportunity to invest in a film called SOLD about sex trafficking of children in Nepal and India, her eyes were opened to an entire underworld—not only globally, but at home as well. “I learned that there are currently between 300 and 500 prostituted youth in Seattle/King County,” she says.
Unwilling to turn her back on children who had no voice and whose freedom had been stolen, Paula acted quickly, getting together with the nine other women who had invested in SOLD to form StolenYouth, an organization that could help protect exploited youth in the Seattle area.
Born and raised in Washington state, Paula first came to understand injustice when her parents took her to Mexico. She says, “I was exposed to the smell of poverty…burning garbage and people begging on the streets. That trip was one of the greatest teaching moments in my life, and I experienced an awakening in me to be aware and present to the suffering of others.”
In her late 30s, as a single mother of three, Paula’s desire to create positive change in the world inspired her to take up study at Antioch University. Ultimately, she earned a master’s degree in counseling and began her career as a middle school counselor.
An unexpected trip to El Salvador in 1992 reawakened her early childhood memories of Mexico, and one year after her return from that trip Paula and her husband Bill formed Global Partnerships, a nonprofit that raises money to fund micro-finance and other projects in developing countries, especially in Latin America. Global Partnerships has since grown to serve 13 countries and more than one million families.
In 2007, Paula and Bill formed the Seattle International Foundation, a private foundation that provides grants for philanthropy in Seattle as well as projects in Central America that help promote international development and awareness.
Paula and Bill still serve on the board of Global Partnerships and are the leaders of their foundation. However, it’s clear that StolenYouth is Paula’s passion. “What I love most about StolenYouth is the goodness of the people involved,” she says. “For example, when we first dreamed of creating a safe home for trafficked children—even before a property could be secured for the home—friends and strangers came forward, offering to build the house and decorate the interior.” As it turned out, StolenYouth heard from local organizations already working with sexually exploited children in the Seattle area that what was needed even more than a safe house were funds to sustain existing programs.
The women changed course and, in response to the needs they were hearing, began fundrais- ing. At the organization’s first fundraiser they raised $730,000—an amount that enabled them to support on-the-ground programs for local organizations, help underwrite a project to aid in the rescue and recovery of children and youth throughout the state, and support efforts to raise awareness among hotels in Seattle about child sex trafficking and forced prostitution.
“I truly believe that who we are depends on who we have helped along the way,” Paula says, noting that the quote comes from an anonymous source but speaks directly to her soul. “I also quote Elie Wiesel often,” she says. “He said, ‘One person of integrity can make a difference—a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.’ My whole soul’s purpose is to live with this in mind; doing so fills me with the wonderful knowledge that I am part of something much greater than myself.”