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The importance of youth leadership at home

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The importance of youth leadership at home

By Isaac Garcia, a high school sophomore and afterschool student at Aptos Community Youth Program.

At a time when national issues seem to be the most important and engaging problems in our lives, it is important to remember where you come from. Recently, my youth group, Aptos Community Youth Program, spoke to Congressman Jimmy Panetta about our program and how we are making a difference in our community. Interestingly, Mr. Panetta noted that he was impressed that we were making a difference right in our own communities. He added that he was worried that many youth all over the country are only concerned with national issues, and while still important, these issues are what people like him are there for. Issues in our own communities, such as hunger, homelessness, food insecurity, mental health issues, drug abuse, youth violence, youth engagement (affordable and accessible after school activities), access to clean and safe public trails and parks, lack of resources for school and students among other issues impact our lives daily. And by addressing these issues, we can impact the lives of our community members directly.

This past year, my community has been through a lot. My classmates and clubmates have noticed this as well. Many of us have parents and family members who have lost their jobs or fear losing their jobs. We have isolated ourselves from many of our friends and family members and many of us are dealing with mental health issues. But as leaders, we can make a difference with action. We volunteered, cleaned beaches, podcasted, spoke at youth summits, learned new skills, connected with new people, and most of all, we led. And as the year progressed, we inspired more and more youth to join us.

If you are at home right now and wanting to make a difference, use your time to make a difference in your community. During distance learning, I found myself more involved in my community than I had ever been. I have three other siblings, so getting to events and meetings has always been a challenge for me and my parents. Because most things are virtual now, I do not have to drive anywhere to attend a meeting. The barrier to entry has been essentially eliminated, so now find an issue facing your community. Join or create a club at your school, talk to your local leaders (teachers, principals, congressmen, mayors, group organizers, etc.), volunteer, join a youth group, help those in need, be a leader and a role model in your own home for your siblings and family, whatever your calling you CAN make a difference.

Once you have pinpointed your issue, think about who it affects and how these people are affected. One issue that my team solved was noisy workspaces for students in our community. We decided that purchasing bluetooth headphones and other essential school supplies for students was the best way to secure a quiet and positive workspace for students working from home. We asked our community members for donations of school supplies and money and ended up with around 110 bags of supplies to give out at three different schools in our community-even while our community was suffering from wildfires. If you cannot get enough donations or grant money to do something at that scale, volunteering at a local food bank does as much good for your community as anything. Take a group of club members or friends and volunteer your time to make a difference!

Your community needs your voice and your initiative to create change. Remember that leadership starts at home. Start by talking to your family or friends about these issues. Think about who these issues are affecting, and who can directly impact these issues (school officials, local leaders, etc.). See what your parents know, what your friends know; start by changing things in your own life. I cannot stress how important youth leadership is, not only to our community, but to youth themselves. Everyone in my youth program has become a better person in one way or two because of their newfound passion for leadership and community organizing. We become better people and learn valuable skills , like effective communication, event planning, public speaking and more, that will translate in the real world. Now more than ever, youth need to step up. Be an example for youth across the world.

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