I’ve been looking for new ways to spend quality time with my fifteen year old son.  Some might question my choice, but I chose to take him into Canada’s poorest ‘large urban’ postal code last Friday night and introduce him to 30 survival sex trade workers.  Actually, I wasn’t the one doing the introductions.  Jen Allen, a former survival sex trade worker turned advocate was conducting the introductions.

Jen Allen runs Jen's Kitchen - an outreach program

Let me explain.

2010 came to a close with me really wondering about my parenting skills.  My teenager was making a series of choices that were leading to an ever increasing series of consequences that were expanding beyond my domain.  He was hurting himself and others in the process.  I was frustrated and frightened and  at a loss for what to do next.

I began 2011 forming an intention formed to do things differently.  More creatively.   I thought that introducing my boy to some folks I consider leaders, people who inspire me, would be a bit more worthwhile than spending my time with him either lecturing him or just delivering consequences.  My hope is that he will find inspiration from these introductions and find a pathway to making better choices when faced with some of the challenging options that all teenagers encounter.

Jen Allen inspires me.  I met her over five years ago and volunteered only once before to help her with Jen’s Kitchen.   I was a bit shocked when I phoned her to see if my son and I could do a volunteer shift with her that five years had passed since I had last made that offer.  She gave me instructions on how to prepare 30 meal bags with sandwiches, juice boxes and granola bars.  We met her on Powell Street near the ‘strolls’ with our bags of food that my son had prepared.  (btw – it was less than $40.00 to supply a meal, drink and snack to 30 survival sex trade workers)  It was a bitterly cold, windy night last Friday and since this was my son’s first time volunteering with Jen, she chose to conduct our outreach from the car rather than walking the streets and alleys as she more commonly does.

As I drove Jen directed me to slow down when she saw a woman who she recognized to be ‘working’, rolling down her window to call out “are you hungry?”  Most said yes and gratefully accepted the brown paper bag offered.  As we drove up and down the streets Jen provided a running commentary combining history, statistics and anecdotes.  My son was full of questions and Jen also questioned him, ensuring that he had properly absorbed the information she was sharing with him.  She has tremendous compassion for the women she serves, but is a no nonsense advocate that is willing to take on the police, policy makers and has a goal of meeting with the United Nations this year.  Jen’s position is that the sex trade has always existed and always will, and ensuring that the women who work in the trade are safe should be a priority.

It was a powerful experience for my son. As we chatted with Jen over dinner in a Chinatown restaurant he asked if he could help her again next month.