When I was 13, my parents took us on vacation overseas. I remember this beautiful resort with a strip of hotels. Every night we would go to dinner; on our way home, I was struck by the number of women from the community who were sitting on the sidewalk late at night with their babies asleep in their laps and their children walking up and down the strip selling candy.

I couldn’t focus on anything else.

Their children should’ve been asleep in their beds but economically the mothers felt that was the only way to make money.

At that point, I knew I wanted to focus on economic disparity.

After college, I had my heart set on working for an organization related to poverty and economics, such as the World Bank.

Deb Hauser is the new president and executive director for Advocates for Youth. (Courtesy of Advocates for Youth)

So I joined the Peace Corps and worked in Paraguay, and I started focusing on health issues. I would administer vaccines and teach kids about cleanliness.

What I didn’t expect was the family planning aspect.

I remember one woman in her early 20s who had four kids and was pregnant with the fifth. She gave birth but decided to starve the baby to death because she couldn’t afford to feed the child. She sacrificed the infant for the other kids.

At that point, there were two things that were crystal clear to me. One, this is not acceptable. Two, sexual health and economic justice go hand in hand.

Women need the ability to safely regulate their fertility to be secure economically.

I came home and decided to go to graduate school to study this issue.

At that time, I discovered that a close friend from college had contracted HIV. I had never seen a disease quite like that. He was so sick and there was no medication at the time. He ended up with dementia and wasting syndrome.

That ignited for me a passion for HIV and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, which would later manifest at Advocates for Youth.

During my studies, I became interested in international heath and population planning, and I decided to take a job as the director of community health services for Atlantic City.

You had this strip of ostentatious casinos; yet right across the street were the projects where teen pregnancy was high and HIV was an issue. The community was really looking for answers.

I spent seven years working on teen pregnancy prevention, but at some point you realize you can’t do the frontline work until the policy is there.

So I transitioned to Advocates for Youth in 1992. I started as the director of school-based health centers, a fledging and fairly new arena.

We created a system where communities would call us and we would do training and technical systems to help them figure out how they could create a clinic in a school.

We moved the number of school-based health-care systems from 500 to 1,500.

As head of the organization, I see that the success of the program will rest on continuity and innovation. The places we’ll drive forward is to make the youth leadership and empowerment model stronger and go deeper into communities of color.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Deb Hauser

Position: President and executive director of Advocates for Youth, a national sexual health nonprofit group based in the District.

Career highlights: Executive vice president, Advocates for Youth; director of community health services, Atlantic City; volunteer in Paraguay, Peace Corps.

Age: 51

Education: BS, international affairs and economics, George Washington University; MS, public health in population planning and international health, University of Michigan.

Personal: Lives in Alexandria with husband Jim and their two children: Alex, 17, and Ellen, 22.