Empowering youth as policy advocates and future leaders
The growing number of young people in the Central Valley are full of ideas and promise, but their voices are often overlooked when adults make decisions impacting the future. Likewise, youth in the Central Valley face unique obstacles: higher-than-average rates of drug and alcohol abuse, lower-than-average college readiness, and more.
Historically, there have been few, if any, opportunities for young people to advocate for their needs and their communities, but Yammilette G. Rodriguez of the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) is working to change things. Inspired by her mentors who informed and nurtured her leadership skills in high school and beyond, Rodriguez recognized the need to invest in young people to inform policy ideas that could deeply affect their lives. For Rodriguez, this realization was born out of personal experience; she is the daughter of immigrants who had limited access to opportunities.
“Their stories are extremely similar to mine in not having resources, not having the tradition in their families to go to college,” Rodriguez said. “So it’s really important for us to be that support for them.”
Rodriguez and YLI empower underrepresented youth to advocate for the needs of their community through a variety of creative strategies. For example, YLI facilitates the City of Fresno Youth Commission to equip young people with tools to become civically engaged and better navigate the political process.
“Young people must be engaged in the advocacy process. Because they have solutions. We just have to hear them.”
Yammilette G. Rodriguez, Senior Director, Youth Leadership Institute
Youth also engage directly with elected officials and are provided the space to articulate the real needs of other young people. The YLI Youth Jobs Task Force addresses youth unemployment by identifying opportunities for paid youth internships at the city level and offers vocational training to prepare youth for high-quality jobs. YLI also collaborates with partners in the fight against underage substance abuse.
YLI works collaboratively with more than 2,000 high school students statewide each year and has achieved more than 120 policy victories. Under Rodriguez’ leadership, YLI’s youth advocated to limit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to community spaces including schools. As a result, Fresno Unified is now a Sanctuary School District.
With Rodriguez’ commitment to developing the next generation of leaders, she ensures young people have opportunities to inform and inspire a variety of policies that strengthen communities across the Central Valley.
Video by Talking Eyes Media
Youth Leadership Institute
In 2019, Fresno Pacific University recognized Yami with its Distinguished Alumni Award. That same year, Reedley College named Yami Alumnus of the Year.
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.