Young people involved in Alianza Coachella Valley’s Youth Organizing Council feel more engaged in their communities and better prepared to be leaders, according to a survey of members detailed in a new case study.
YO-C (pronounced “yo-say,” as in “yo sé,” Spanish for “I know”) is part of Alianza’s broader mission to transform the socio-economic conditions of communities of color in the Coachella Valley. One of the only youth organizing and leadership development programs in the region, YO-C prepares young people to be the Eastern Coachella Valley’s future leaders. Through group discussions and personal reflections on topics like race, class, gender and immigration, members start to understand systemic problems, root causes, and how to affect community-led change.
In a focus group conducted in August 2020, members in YO-C reported gaining leadership skills through their involvement, including public speaking and confidence expressing opinions. Participants also reported benefits to their social and emotional well-being, a greater sense of responsibility in their community and desire to push for changes, and helped develop their critical thinking skills and academic confidence.
The findings show that the program’s positive impact on youth matches the benefits broader research has identified in youth organizing programs. Through activities directly relevant to the youths’ daily lives, youth organizing programs foster leadership, academic success and mental health. Research shows that compared to youth of similar backgrounds, youth organizing alumni are more likely to attend a four-year college and a higher share expect to pursue a postgraduate degree.
“Alianza’s YO-C leadership program has had an incredible impact on preparing the next generation of Eastern Coachella Valley youth to be the region’s future leaders and decision-makers,” said Elycia Mulholland Graves, Associate Director of Research and Development at Advancement Project California. “These youth have progressed in their leadership, ability to critically analyze issues in systemic ways, and capacity to work toward transformational change in their community. Additional investments can help expand the scope and reach of this powerful program so that more youth in the Eastern Coachella Valley may benefit.”
YO-C primarily serves high school age youth who attend schools within the Coachella Valley Unified School District, and the majority of members are Latinx youth living in the Eastern Coachella Valley. YO-C activities can be divided into two major categories: community building and youth leadership development. Embedded within these activities are practices common to youth organizing programs, including a continual process of practicing leadership skills, relationship building among staff and members, and developing relevant community campaigns. YO-C members organize the annual Hue music festival and Kermes event and have been an integral part of Alianza’s outreach for the 2020 Census and get-out-the-vote efforts.
“As we look at how to expand our work, this report will be essential to help us develop a plan that will address our gaps and continue expanding on our strengths,” said Sahara Huazano, director of programs at Alianza Coachella Valley.
Based on youth feedback, the report recommends that Alianza look for ways to expand YO-C’s reach, including to more Coachella Valley high schools, and that efforts be made to address the lack of transportation that makes participating in the program difficult for many young people.
The full report is available to read online here.