Paying It Forward

Already swamped in the pressures and workload junior year demands, Ellen Lee and Hana Pham found the time to create their club Pay It Forward at Roosevelt High School. While addressing an array of different issues, this club’s purpose was sparked with a passion to get the conversation about human trafficking started with their peers in school. 


Hana Pham
Hana Pham

In Hana’s psychology class this year Seattle Against Slavery facilitator, Phoebe, spoke to a group of students about how this issue effects American children. Excited and empowered, Hana and Ellen started their club as a way to keep the conversation going.


“I honestly didn’t know it was so prevalent in Seattle, or even the U.S at large, until Phoebe came to speak,” Ellen told me.


These two remarkable young women are involved in soccer, ultimate frisbee, violin, the school newspaper, volunteer for Birthday Dreams (giving birthday parties to homeless or low income kids), and Faneros (an organization teaching violin to children with Autism). With a mind set of “I don’t need to wait until I’m an adult to make a difference,” they became impressive advocates. 


Ellen Lee
Ellen Lee

Pay It Forward and another club at Roosevelt called The F-Word collaborated on an informative and youth lead video which was then broadcasted on SAS’s website and social media (you can watch it here!). 


A few weeks later, Hana, Ellen, and a couple club members participated in a Take 5 Table located at a farmer’s market in the U District. This was an attempt to enlighten people that you only need 5 minutes to call your elected officials and advocate for them to pass bills that help support human trafficking victims, immigrant families, and the LGBTQ+ community. They made is easy to get involved and many people took time out of their day to engage. 


Ellen and Hana didn’t stop there. With their help, Phoebe was able to organize a speaking event for Roosevelt students with Nancy Amidei, an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. Ellen and Hana saw this as an opportunity to reach a larger crowd and the AP US History teacher agreed to make this event extra credit resulting in a huge opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of community organizing and the connection between homelessness and human trafficking.


When they could have just stuck to studying for their AP and honors courses and SAT/ACT testing, they didn’t. When they could have stuck to just playing their sports, they didn’t. When they could have stuck to their previous volunteer roles, they didn’t. They continued to push for more and ended up founding their club and engaging their peers. Ellen and Hana never stopped in their quest to do great, to be great.


At every turn, these two busy teenagers pushed for more and leaned into opportunities to grow as students, leaders, advocates, and people. Ellen and Hana will continue to expand their club efforts and leave behind a sustainable foundation for future students who are as passionate as they are.


“Our club name is Pay It Forward, meaning if you do one good thing, it will keep spreading. We will not stop after participating in one good thing.”


I urge everyone (yes, adults, you too!) to pay your time and efforts forward. We all have time in our day to give back and participate in an issue that is hurting our own neighbors, friends, children. Trust me, this feeling is addictive. Ask Hana and Ellen.

Click here to find out how you can make an impact as a volunteer with Seattle Against Slavery.