“My journey throughout Washington [High School] has transformed me. I remember my first day, when I was a bit nervous, shy, and lost, surrounded by red lockers and heather grey hallways, I had no idea where the gym was, nor my next English class. Despite my struggles, I soon found more opportunities to grow from my involvements with YLI’s Washington’s Positive Peer Pressure, American Services Club, Tennis, and Sewing Club. Each year, I felt more and more a part of my community and more and more able to make a difference.”
For the past 4 years, Jenny Lee has been a dedicated youth leader in YLI’s WPX3 program in San Francisco. This year, she graduated as valedictorian of her high school, and will attend Brown University in the Fall.
From a young age, Jenny learned to work hard and be diligent in school despite the challenges she faced. “My parents came from Vietnam and they didn’t speak English well, so growing up I would fill out school forms and do homework basically by myself. I also had to translate a lot but it helped me to be independent. Also, since my parents don’t have high paying jobs, we wouldn’t vacation that often or eat out very much. Instead, I would read books and do art for entertainment. My parents always supported my brother and me and wanted us to be happy.”
Jenny has also seen the first-hand impact that alcohol can have on people she loves. One of her relatives was an alcoholic and eventually suffered from liver cancer. This experience helped Jenny decide that she didn’t want to be involved with alcohol and that she wanted to learn more about alcohol prevention and the factors that work to normalize alcohol in her community.
YLI uses a public health framework to support young people to make healthy decisions about drugs and alcohol and also to create community change. At George Washington High School, YLI runs the Washington Positive Peer Pressure (WPX3) program, which is an alcohol prevention program focused on highlighting positive social norms among high school students. Jenny has been very committed to this program. “Four years ago I was very shy and didn’t know much, but after joining WPX3 I learned a lot more about underage drinking. I also gained leadership skills by planning the meetings, icebreakers, and leading the check-ins and check-outs of the program. At the annual SF Prevention Coalition Meet Up I used my public speaking skills to describe my work and met several other youth leaders in similar programs.”
One of the highlights in WPX3 over the past four years was meeting former District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting. WPX3 youth leaders received Certificates of Honor for their achievements with the Positive Social Norms campaign. Since then, Jenny has gained a leadership role in the program and helped to facilitate the weekly meetings with the support of her adult ally.
Jenny is also a part of a women’s empowerment program through the UCSF youth steering committee, where she recently planned and held a youth summit to address women’s health issues. “It took a lot of planning and we provided workshops on topics such as healthy eating, body image, drug abuse, bullying, low self esteem, and unhealthy relationships.”
During high school, when Jenny was not busy doing her homework, leading in WPX3 or participating in the youth steering committee, she was playing for Washington High’s tennis team, volunteering with the American Service Club, and volunteering with the sewing club to make patches and quilts for veterans. In the future, Jenny wants to continue doing work to make her community healthier. When Jenny goes to Brown University, she plans to take pre-med coursework and wants to give back to her community by becoming a neonatologist or an obstetrician.
“Youth leadership means young people stepping up and taking initiative against things they don’t believe in.” – Jenny Lee
YLI is committed to seeing young people grow their voice and become the leaders in their communities to enact social change. We are thankful to Jenny for 4 dedicated years of partnering with youth and adult allies to create a healthier and more equitable San Francisco. WPX3 looks forward to honoring Jenny’s impact by continuing to investigate and challenge the messages and norms that make alcohol appealing to youth this Fall.