YLI Alum Edith Martinez Shows How YLI Opened Doors

yli is My Story

“The skills, opportunity, and experience that YLI offers help to motivate youth so much. You can be heard and you can be political at any age. You don’t have to be scared that you will be shut down for having a different idea. You can make a change.”

Edith Martinez is a YLI alumna and current student at Fresno City College. After four years in high school as a YLI participant, Edith is a testament to the importance of leadership development opportunities for youth.  

In high school, Edith moved to a small community where many families were migrant workers or agricultural workers. She explains the challenges that these hard-working families face and their need to support each other. “Our family values are very strong and it can sometimes become hard to balance family, work and education to further yourself along because parents are asking their kids to come along to work with them.”

After a four-year commitment to YLI, Edith blossomed in her confidence and communication skills. She says, “It helped me grow and mature so much. I gained the skill of being open and communicative and networking. It broadened my own personal perspective of taking into account other people’s lives. I met people from different cities, different areas. I remember when I first started college, I was so grateful, because it’s through YLI that I am able to meet people, give a well-versed speech, and get connected with my peers, students, teachers, and faculty. I’m not afraid to be an activist or work on an issue that aligns with my values.”

One campaign that had a really important impact for Edith and her community was the protect the libraries campaign. “There was a policy that was wanting to cut funding to our libraries. This was a very drastic move since the libraries already received little funding and if they made this cut, our libraries would disappear completely. I spoke to our city council and the end result was that they actually extended the funding for another couple years to help our libraries.”

Edith’s success in the community has lead her to take chances and to become an engaged college student. “I spoke to the CEO Club, the collegiate entrepreneurs organization at Reedley College, and was with them for a year and a half until I transferred to Fresno City College. I never thought I would be interested in creating my own company or business. But I am seeing how my youth development experience created so many skills, including outreach, pitching ideas, networking, being creative, working with my peers, merging and combining ideas.” Furthermore, these skills and experiences have shaped Edith’s social justice interests in college.  “Because of YLI I have decided to major in communication and mass media studies because of some of the programs where I participated, like Hispañas Organizing for Political Equality and Young Legislators Program. I’m now on the verge of transferring to Fresno State and I see these skills come out in my classes and are the building blocks to getting my degree.”

Edith understands the cultural barriers that impact communities, and she wants to use her knowledge and skills to implement both structural and cultural change. She explains, “Sometimes parents or family members don’t see cultural barriers that prevent youth from succeeding in school, so I would love to merge business and school districts together to provide more opportunities within different sectors that seek cultural inclusion for youth. This way they could finish school and enjoy the fruits of their labor and be able to help their families more in the long run.”

In the future, Edith envisions herself, “Working in the valley or even Silicon Valley to help outreach to different demographics they normally wouldn’t look at. I would also like to work alongside schools and businesses to provide programs that bring more opportunities for school districts that are in smaller towns with families that come from an agricultural background.”

“Youth Leadership is taking the chance to not only say what you need to say and showcase your values but also listening to others that may not have the confidence to speak out.” Edith, YLI Alumna