Youth Council (CYC) member Margarita, 19, is cognizant of one common link uniting her efforts around alcohol regulation, transportation, and economic security policies: “The work we do makes me realize whom, these issues impact the most. What unites all these is the fact that they disproportionately impact minorities. That’s a totally different aspect of data that I did not look at before YLI. You think these issues affect everybody equally, but if you look at the issues very critically, you realize that they overwhelmingly impact minorities.”
Margarita’s drive to improve her Half Moon Bay community with the support of YLI is informed by her own experiences of growing up as a person of color. “Mostly academically, youth don’t have very much support. My high school only had four counselors. You almost had to be forceful to receive assistance, and some students don’t do that. Those students must find other sources of support, like mentors.“
Margarita says, “I have mentors at YLI. This really helps me. Fahad (YLI San Mateo Senior Director) has been a mentor for 3 years and he’s always there for us. Then, Montze (YLI San Mateo Program Coordinator) came in and she introduced a whole new light to everything. I think about things differently now.“ She also comes from several generations of youth mentorship. Her friend George joined the Coastside Youth Council five years ago, when he was still in middle school. Now Margarita recruits more youth so that they can learn how to be a powerful voice in their communities. In fact, Margarita recruited the majority of current youth council members.
“YLI really impacted my ability to open up to people. I now feel more confident walking up to people and talking to them.” In addition to developing her problem-solving skills, Margarita says her critical thinking skills “help me understand how the work I do impacts my community. My thought process has become more optimistic with YLI because I know we help people around us.”
She says, “I have a lot of plans [for my future], but I want to help youth who struggle. I know youth struggle everywhere, but there are certain youth that struggle even more, especially in high school when it’s the toughest. That’s when adults let youth go because they don’t think they have potential. There are many youth that can do more, but they just don’t have people there to support them. I have seen this in my community. Youth don’t believe they can do much to better themselves or their communities. They don’t believe they have potential. They don’t believe they can fulfill their dreams because they don’t have the support, so they just stop trying. There are so many youth that don’t realize the potential they have. So, there is a need for youth centers for those who can’t work the way schools expect them to work so that they can also succeed. We have to find different ways.“
Margarita says that the skills and values she developed with YLI influence other areas of her life. “In my first semester at San Francisco State University,” she elaborates, “I took a health education class and we focused on one health topic that really interested and affected us. At the same time, CYC spoke about a health ordinance here in Half Moon Bay that we tried to pass. I wrote a paper on how a similar ordinance affects San Francisco in my health class. All I learn with CYC influences what I think about health equity and other areas, such as ethnic studies. Everything just makes sense. Critical thinking skills opened doors and now I can engage better in my classes.”
Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Margarita arrived to the United States at the age of 4. Her immigrant background is deeply intertwined with her passion for community work: “For me, giving back to my community has always been a passion. I feel really happy when I give back. When I first got to the U.S., my community provided so much help to me and I believe giving back to them is the right thing to do. It’s something that I enjoy. So, I do it because I like doing it, not just because I want to pay back what was done for me. And I would do it for any other community because communities help each other.”
Margarita has been involved with Coastside Youth Council (CYC) for 3 years. In those 3 years, Margarita has played a leading role in spearheading Economic Security initiatives and Lee Law, which works to make communities healthier by limiting the influence of alcohol. CYC supported toughening California’s Lee Law because it allows no more than 33 percent of the square footage of store windows to be filled with alcohol advertising. This campaign is part of a youth-led environmental prevention strategy, as studies show that advertising shapes the choices individuals make, including youth’s alcohol consumption.
Margarita is contributing to a legacy of 25 years of youth led community change work at Youth Leadership Institute. In 25 years, YLI has passed 100 policies including local ordinances like the Lee Law. If Margarita and the Coastside Youth Council pass their policy this year, it will be the 101st policy of Youth Leadership Institute. YLI is fundraising with SV Gives on May 3 to help to make this policy happen.
“Youth leadership is the voice of youth when we become leaders in our communities.” – Margarita, Coastside Youth Council Member