Advocating for youth and juvenile justice are such passions for Suriya Khong that she left the nonprofit sector working with struggling kids to go to law school. “I thought it would help me become a better advocate for young people,” she says. But in 2017, after working as a public defender, she left the courts and returned to kids.
Khong, 38, is now director of Teen Initiatives at the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County, where she has launched college and career readiness and volunteer and entrepreneurship opportunities for club members. In less than two years, her work earned her the status of one of five national finalists for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America 2019 National Youth Development Professional MVP Award.
Recently, she helped to establish the club’s Youth Council, a teen-run initiative addressing social justice issues and racial inequality. She is working with Sarasota County Schools to implement culturally responsive curricula for grades K-12.
But one-on-one mentoring is where she finds the most meaningful transformation, and Khong has watched her mentees blossom into confident, successful teens and young adults. “No one makes it in the world alone, but with supportive and caring adults who take active interest in young people, their possibilities become limitless,” she says.