Luisa Sicarios, a lifelong resident of San Francisco, has set out to create powerful change in her community since the age of 13 when she first became involved with YLI. At YLI, she has come full circle by evolving from a youth participant, to a program coordinator, to a youth board member, to a current adult board member. Her 11 year trajectory in the nonprofit world was triggered and imbued by the values and skills YLI helped her cultivate, but her journey was also informed by personal experiences growing up in the marginalized community of SoMa (South of Market).
As the eldest in her family, she grew up with a high level of responsibility and an engrained value of leadership that she now translates to her nonprofit work. Growing up, she successfully mastered English as her second language and played a major role in tending to her younger sister who has special needs while her parents worked. Luisa continues to act as her sister’s main caretaker, and applies her leadership skills to an impassioned dedication to creating services for youth with disabilities.
Luisa credits YLI with helping find her voice as a youth advocate, both literally and metaphorically. As an English language learner, leading with a strong voice has not come easily. The YLI model that includes youth driving campaigns through verbal communication placed Luisa into scenarios where strong public speaking was crucial to a successful campaign.
With support from YLI, Luisa mastered public speaking through the City Hall testimonials she presented to council members, health officers, and police officers within her very first year as a 13 year old. She also become more vocal through intense community surveying for TURF (Tobacco Use Reduction Force) campaigns and program facilitation.
“YLI helped me crack out of my shell much faster and made me more independent,” says Luisa.
Excelling as a youth leader and advocate, YLI offered Luisa program assistant position where she developed and delivered curriculum to her peers, widened her scope of community outreach, and increased her ability to locate key issues plaguing her community. Through this rigorous training, the remarkable skills Luisa learned took deep root and resulted in her admission as a youth board member, and now Luisa is an adult board member and Committee Chair for YLI.
Looking back, Luisa reflects on the countless times YLI had a powerful impact on her trajectory, from childhood to this day. While her family valued education, as a teenager she never expected to attend college due to family circumstances and high tuition. Luisa is now the first college graduate in her family due to YLI’s guidance and ongoing encouragement. Luisa successfully graduated from San Francisco State University and she thanks YLI for helping her research schools, assist her in the application process, writing her letters of recommendation, and leading her to her concentration in nonprofit work. As a college graduate, YLI was paramount in helping her locate employment that reflected her values and in building her confidence as an applicant. Even now as a board member, she feels YLI’s consistent support though the mentorship opportunities from other board members.
In addition to serving as a Youth Leadership Institute board member, Luisa remains true to her dedication in youth development through her work with MYEEP as a Youth Leadership Coordinator, where she provides job readiness skills and academic support for high school students. By opening the doors to the nonprofit world, her involvement with YLI has also led her to high impact work with My Path (formerly known as Mission SF), Oasis for Girls, and College Track.
Luisa is emphatic about her desire “to give back” by pursuing a Master’s degree in the near future and opening the doors of access to youth with the greatest unmet need.