Alianza and Advancement Project California conducted a case study to document the impact of Alianza’s Youth Organizing Council, commonly referred to as YO-C (pronounced yo-say as in Spanish for “I know”). YO-C is one of the only youth organizing and leadership development programs in the Coachella Valley region and is part of Alianza’s broader mission to transform the socio-economic conditions of communities of color within the region.
“Every time we had a meeting or we would meet up for canvassing events … whatever we were doing, I would learn something new.” — Youth leader
Youth in the Eastern Coachella Valley
The Eastern Coachella Valley (ECV) is a rich, culturally diverse region in Riverside County whose residents are primarily Latinx and immigrants. It is riddled with inequalities due to discrimination and disinvestment that shape the conditions young people must navigate in order to thrive.
Young people in the ECV are motivated to make a difference in their communities and address the inequalities they have witnessed or experienced. By using practices grounded in youth organizing and employing Alianza staff from the community, YO-C helps grow youth’s passion for their community and capacity for community-led change.
YO-C primarily serves high school-age students within the Coachella Valley Unified School District. Its activities can be divided into two major categories: community building and leadership development. Embedded within these activities are practices common to youth organizing programs, including continually practicing leadership skills, building relationships between staff and members, and relevant community campaigns.
Spotlight: The Hue and Kermes
The Hue and Kermes are two events youth leaders organize each year. For each event, Alianza staff support youth in identifying a local issue to highlight to the community, planning logistics, and inviting local artists and vendors to participate. At the events, decision-makers and the community hear about what the youth have been working on throughout their year. Youth prepare speeches, called Soap Box speeches, that showcase their analysis of local issues and share information with the community.
Impact on Youth Leaders
From developing leadership skills to increasing educational motivations, YO-C has had a visible impact on its current youth leaders. In the focus group, current youth leaders frequently described how they were able to develop their leadership skills through their work with YO-C. They mentioned developing many different aspects of leadership, including planning and organizing, collaborating across the community, and love for their community. The most frequent leadership skill was the confidence to speak up and express their opinions in public.
Social and Emotional Wellness
Focus group participants emphasized that their social and emotional well-being benefited from the relationships they developed through YO-C. Most youth said they take a positive attitude towards themselves, but less than half agreed that they have high self-esteem. Similarly, less than half agreed that their peers consider them to be a leader. This may point to an opportunity for Alianza to provide emotional and self-esteem support, in addition to a greater emphasis on relationship building, in the future.
Commitment to Change and their Community
Youth leaders reported strong beliefs about their responsibility to their community and a passion to create community change because of YO-C. All youth who participated in the survey shared the belief that they have a responsibility to improve their community, and most agreed that YO-C inspired more youth to make a positive difference in their community.
Critical Thinking and Academic Attainment
Members noted that YO-C broadened their perspectives, helped open their minds, and taught them to think critically, especially regarding systemic issues in their community. Some also described how YO-C gave them greater confidence in their academic abilities and ability to pursue higher education. Five in seven members surveyed said YO-C increased their college aspirations.
- Expand the program scope and capacity in physical infrastructure and reach: Additional funding could allow Alianza to expand YO-C into a larger meeting space and reach into more area high schools.
- Provide funding to address barriers to youth participation: Transportation was the main barrier to participation cited by youth. This will need to be addressed if Alianza is to expand YO-C to more areas. Scholarships and stipends for youth organizers also remove barriers to participation and should be considered by funders looking to invest in youth work.
- Fund additional social and emotional supports for youth: Given the limited scope of the case study, Alianza can further explore gaps in programming to better impact youth perceptions of their self-esteem and leadership. Funders should consider the importance of funding social and emotional supports.
- Invest in a long-term evaluation of YO-C’s impact: A larger survey of the program, not constrained by the pandemic, could help Alianza identify additional areas of program improvement and provide greater evidence of YO-C’s long-term benefits.