Andrea Villegas is a youth leader and resident of Half Moon Bay, CA and has been part of Youth Leadership Institute in our San Mateo office for more than a year. She is 17 years old, aspiring to study environmental science and focusing on water resources. In the past year and two months, Andrea has led our health equity project on promoting healthy messages by enforcing state and local signage ordinances in Half Moon Bay. Additionally, Andrea is currently leading Peninsula Advocates Investigating Debt-Traps (PAID) to bring awareness on the harms of predatory financial services, such as payday lenders, and uplift the needs for economic security and access to youth-friendly financial products, also in Half Moon Bay.
“For me, YLI was an opportunity to become motivated, in school and in my community in a time when it was becoming difficult to balance family and school. YLI was an opportunity to find a new sense of purpose when I most needed it. If I had a piece of advice for youth, it is that we cannot limit ourselves, not because of our age, where we come from, or obstacles in our way, but because there are always options and solutions with the right support of family and mentors.”
Andrea quickly developed her confidence in public speaking, as she became more conscious of the needs of her community, and the importance and magic that happens when community members, especially youth, are leading a process of community change and community civic engagement. Going to city council meetings, meeting one on one with decision makers, and feeling empowered were some of the outcomes Andrea and Half Moon Bay youth have experienced to build leadership skills in their community. In an effort to open doors for more youth to benefit from this opportunity, Andrea adamantly took initiative to start a YLI youth group at her high school, went through the logistics, crafted a constitution for the group, organized her peers to be part of this new opportunity, presented to school leadership and administration at Half Moon Bay High, and established a group that was built by youth, for youth, and once again taught us the importance of youth leadership development.
Andrea is building upon several teams of youth leaders in Peninsula Advocates Investigating Debt Traps (PAID). PAID continues to lead YLI’s economic security work and has recently had conversations with the city council about their future public awareness campaign and video to advocate for healthy financial products in order to prevent payday lenders from draining money from Half Moon Bay’s local economy. Check out their work in pages 62-63 of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation/University of Utah case study report, The Power of Community Action: Anti-Payday Loan Ordinances in Three Metropolitan Areas.
Andrea continues to build a foundation for health equity work in her community, and when asked where she envisions herself and her community in 25 years, she responded “I hope that at 42 years old, I am happy. I hope I am part of community change and a process that betters the lives of people in different ways. I will remember YLI as a good part of my life and as the opportunity I needed to continue being part of change.”