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Ambassadors Chosen to Raise the Voices of the Nation's Opportunity Youth

Advocacy | CJ Callen, CEO of the Youth Leadership Institute | Tuesday March 13, 2012 9:10

The Youth Leadership Institute today announced the selection of youth ambassadors to serve as spokespeople for a campaign to raise awareness and spark action to help the nation’s Opportunity Youth.  Opportunity Youth are young Americans ages 16-24 who are disconnected from education and from work — more than 6 million youth and young adults nationwide.

The eleven youth and young adults were selected because of their powerful personal stories about overcoming challenges to successfully engage in education and work, many of them through vital “pathways” that provided them with real work skills, mentors, internships, and social and financial support.

The Youth Leadership Institute selected the ambassadors as part of its effort to help bring powerful youth voices to national and community discussions about providing opportunity as a way of supporting the work of the White House Council for Community Solutions.  The Council is identifying ways that every American community can create the civic infrastructure or local road map to move youth along pathways to education, employment, and ongoing civic participation.

The Youth Ambassadors:

Jairus Cater of Nashville, TN, age 20, is a student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, was the first in his family to attend college, and found his calling serving those he saw experiencing unemployment, gangs, drug abuse, and incarceration in his community. Cater interned at the Nashville Career Advancement Center and the Oasis Youth Opportunity Center, and later became a co-chair of the Nashville Mayor’s Child and Youth Master Plan Task Force.

Ryan Dalton of New Orleans LA, age 22, is a student at Southern University at New Orleans and a chef and floor trainer at Cafe Reconcile. Dalton credits Café Reconcile’s job training program with changing his life in a crime-filled neighborhood following his dislocation after Hurricane Katrina and putting him on a clear track to success. 

Trevor Easley of Columbus OH, age 23, is a retention specialist for YouthBuild Columbus Community School, and Gospel Rap performer under the name Trev-eaz.  After losing his mother at age 18 and simultaneously facing the loss of their home, Easley gained significant learning and leadership opportunities through his enrollment at YouthBuild’s Columbus Community School.

Francisco Garcia of Hacienda Heights CA, age 24, is a student at Rio Hondo College and a public muralist who engaged in graffiti and faced run-ins with law enforcement at a young age.  He found opportunities working with a mentor and other youth at Arizona Call a Teen Youth Resources.

Torres Hughes of Chicago IL, age 17, is a senior at Austin Polytechnical Academy, a school he credits with giving him a career-focused engineering curriculum and real job exposure through his experience as an apprentice in the Beverage Industry Products and Profits program provided at his school by After School Matters. Hughes was raised by his grandmother and other family members, and fell a year behind in high school before accelerating his education at Austin Polytechnical Academy.

Shaakirah Medford of Queens, New York City, age 20, is a junior majoring in English at State University of New York (SUNY) College at Old Westbury and grew up in the Jamaica neighborhood in the borough of Queens, New York City.  Medford found encouragement and corporate internship opportunities through the Development School for Youth of the All Stars Project in New York City.

José-Luis Mejia of San Francisco CA, age 24, is the lead program facilitator and producer at Conscious Youth Media Crew (CYMC) and young adult engagement coordinator at Transitional Age Youth San Francisco (TAYSF).  After experiencing violence and the street economy at an early age, and losing friends by death and incarceration, Mejia gained significant professional skills and opportunities through the Bay Area Video Coalition’s (BAVC) Digital Pathways program. He is now a proud father and dedicated to creating positive change through direct service, policy, and activism in communities with the most need.

Brian Nguyen of Seattle WA, age 21, is a student at Bellevue College.  After experiencing homelessness, emotional trauma, and being jobless, Nguyen participated in Seattle’s Year Up where he earned college credits and a respected internship at Google. 

Hanna Sharp of Indianapolis IN, age 17, is a student at Decatur Enrichment Center. Sharp experienced homelessness and motherhood at a young age, but found the opportunity to job shadow at a bakery in downtown Indianapolis through the Jobs for America's Graduates program and also now serves as a math tutor to 5th graders.

Brittany Woods of La Mirada CA, age 18, is a student at Biola University who overcame assault and bullying during high school.  Woods discovered leadership through Health Occupations Students of America, an organization for future health professionals, and currently serves on the National Executive Council of the 130,000-member organization.

Hashim Yonis of Minneapolis MN, age 23, graduated from St. Olaf College.  Yonis, who is from war-torn Somalia, grew up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He benefited from the TRIO and STEP-UP programs.  TRIO assisted Yonis to prepare for, enroll, and succeed in college.  The STEP-UP program provided him with opportunities to work with the law firm Faegre & Benson and then in Minneapolis’ Public Works Department. Now Yonis is the youngest school administrative manager in the state of Minnesota.