President’s Youth Council


Robert K. Ross, M.D., President and CEO of The California Endowment formed the President’s Youth Council as a genuine effort to integrate youth input and decision making into The Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities campaign. The President’s Youth Council is a statewide, intergenerational body of youth and seasoned youth workers that provide thought leadership, youth perspective and candid feedback on The California Endowment’s campaign and strategies in the pursuit of Health and Justice across California.

The California Endowment values the energy, agility, and fearlessness of youth leadership and youth organizing in its many forms including local, statewide and online community building, and lifting the voices of those traditionally excluded from public conversations to create opportunities for their stories to be told and heard. Building Healthy Communities is driven by a vision of what constitutes a healthy community: one in which youth and adults thrive and all community members have the opportunities, supports and resources to develop their full potential, thus achieving greater health equity for marginalized Californians, especially those who have experienced disadvantage or historical injustice.

Through Building Healthy Communities, young people have stepped up to lead the fight for healthier schools, neighborhoods, and smarter health systems. PYC Ambassadors for Youth are lead thought partners in redefining wellness for California’s youth and providing youth perspective on expanding leadership roles for youth in advancing health equity and health justice campaigns to strengthen youth voice and leadership across communities, at a statewide level and nationally. We invite PYC Members, as Ambassadors for Youth, to help us realize an inclusive California with Health Equity and Health Justice for All.



Efrain is a community organizer born and raised in Fresno. Growing up he saw gangs and drugs as normal activity in his neighborhood, not realizing they were contributing factors to major health disparities between north and south. This empowered him to use his voice to uplift those in community who have been hurt by oppressive systems. Through the support of his mentors at Fresno Barrios Unidos, Efrain learned how to advocate and engage young people in safe spaces intended to heal trauma through a cultural lens. He is now working at Fresno Barrios Unidos as a Program Assistant, where he supports programming for youth who are often criminalized and left without a seat at the table. Efrain is passionate about creating safe spaces for marginalized youth and ending the criminalization of young people. Efrain is now studying at CSU Fresno, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, with a minor in Chicanx Studies.



Jasmine is from Stockton where she began her organizing career. In 2013 she interned for Council Member Michael Tubbs. In 2014 she was the youngest ever field organizer at age 19 electing Congress Member Jerry McNerney with 60% of the vote. She later became one of the founding members of Reinvent South Stockton Coalition and one of the co-founders of the Stockton Schools Initiative, where she worked with students and families to fight for educational change through policy advocacy work such as Ethnic Studies curriculum in schools, and a push for college career and community readiness. She led the charge for many projects including dismantling the school to prison pipeline, advocating for restorative justice and investments in counselors and coordinators. She was successful in co-authoring a restorative justice resolution that passed in Stockton Unified School District in 2019 with a 6-0 vote. She has been able to cultivate and train hundreds of youth to be agents of change. In addition to serving on boards for Visionary Home Builders, Be Smooth Inc. and Student Success and Leadership Academy, she currently serves on several committees such as Boys of Men of Color Alliance, Stockton Education Equity Coalition and Stockton Scholars Community. In 2018 Jasmine was awarded the Key to the City from Mayor Michael Tubbs and presented with a mural dedication commissioned to artist Brandon Mike Odums.   

Jasmine now serves as the Senior Regional Organizer with Gathering for Justice leading efforts in San Joaquin and Ventura counties on a statewide campaign to close youth prisons in CA and ensure community, youth, families and CBOs have a seat at the table in reimagining alternatives to youth incarceration.


Santa Ana

Deyaneira (she/they) is an undocu-queer individual disrupting cycles of violence in her community trying their best to turn them into cycles of love and transformation. She is an active youth organizer in their hometown of Santa Ana currently serving as the Innovations & Sustainability Director for Invest in Youth Santa Ana. Deyaneira got their start as an advocate for undocumented youth, like herself. During this period, the concepts of transformative justice and radical queer liberation was introduced to them making it their core value. Currently she is serving as a Youth Sustainability Coordinator at their local hub with the goal of shifting the culture of organizing.



Harold’s personal experience with concentrated poverty and the criminal justice system has pushed him to be personally accountable to work in every community he comes in contact with. In his hometown of Stockton he worked for Mayor Michael Tubbs to help establish Stockton Scholars, a city-wide scholarship program. As a student at UCLA he was a policy analyst for Million Dollar Hood where he helped map the fiscal and human cost of incarceration in LA county. In LA he served as a conflict mediator at Soledad Enrich Action Charter to help defuse tension between Crip and Hoover gang members. In Washington DC he worked with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund to combat Brown issues using impact litigation. After graduating from UCLA Harold plans to attend law school to leverage his degree to further impact communities like his own.



Kimberly grew up in South Sacramento, in a community with rich family values, hard working immigrants, cultural diversity, love and so much untapped potential. In high school she helped advance the #Health4All campaign at the local and statewide level through peer-to-peer education, storytelling, marches and protests. Kimberly continued her advocacy in college with a special focus on digital organizing to help combat problematic narratives that were, in part, fueling divisions, hate crimes and internalized social stigma. More importantly she began to use the storytelling capabilities of social media to help amplify the voice of a generation, community and people who did not want the country to slip back but move forward. She helped organize wellness pop-ups across the state in places like Stockton, Santa Cruz, San Jose, the Central Valley and Los Angeles to help young people hold space to heal, create a shared vision and recognize their collective strength. She hopes to increasingly step into her role as a leader to bring greater attention and break the school to prison pipeline that has harmed so many of her childhood friends.   

Today Kimberly is an adviser at Rosa Parks K-8, introducing junior high school-aged youth to health justice campaigns and tending to the social emotional needs of young people and upcoming community champions to leverage statewide power for the purpose of systems change.



Geo is a fellow at the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond. His organizing efforts are centered on social justice issues and its emotional, mental and physical impact on youth. He has faced obstacles concerning race, gender, sexuality and appearance. As a youth organizer his achievements have reached new heights crediting his vulnerability, patience, and demonstrated leadership in a way that leads with love and pushes for safety in community. He was a youth organizer for Kids First, a campaign that established a department and fund for children and youth and was the recipient of the Community Championship award.

Geo plans to become a cardiothoracic surgeon and plans to give back to his community by starting a non-profit chain headquartered in Richmond that focuses on healthcare and making it more accessible to community.  


City Heights

Binti is a founding member of City Heights Youth for Change in San Diego. She graduated from Grossmont College with degrees in Sociology and Social Work and is currently majoring in Sociology at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. Binti is interested in pursuing a career as a community organizer after graduation.

Born in Somali, Binti came to the United States in 2004 at the age of nine. As a San Diego resident, she has been involved with many community groups: Parent Student Resident organization, Food Justice Momentum team, Somali Bantu association, Say San Diego and Sisterhood Circle. Binti loves working alongside community and learning about the needs of local members and what she can do to support efforts. 


Boyle Heights

Karla is a community organizer from Boyle Heights. Her organizing career began in high school when her mother encouraged her to become more active in community. Karla’s mom founded the East Los Angeles Women’s Center (ELAWC) which centers its focus to ensure that women, girls and their families live in a place of safety, health, and personal well-being, free from violence and abuse, have access to necessary health services and social support with an emphasis on Latino communities.  Through ELAWC Karla discovered her voice and power. She became and continues to be empowered by other women for whom she has much gratitude.  Since then she has fallen in love with the movement, fighting for social justice and sharing her knowledge. Karla attended Sisterhood Rising in 2015 and describes herself as a lotus terrified of letting her guard down. She sees that she has blossomed into a courageous leader. Karla has gained experience in developing, implementing and supporting programs for young leaders. As a Youth Engagement Coordinator for ELAWC, Karla mentors student leaders and supports youth lead programming with the purpose of strengthening leadership and self-development through literature analysis, journaling and critical thinking as a learning process. 

Karla is an undergraduate at California State University, Los Angeles as it working to obtain her bachelor’s degree in sociology.


City Heights/Merced

Leslie’s passion for amplifying community power began as an organizer in City Heights, where she was raised after migrating to the U.S. at age of two. Her deep involvement with youth leadership development and grassroots organizing began in 2012 with the Building Healthy Communities initiative. At fourteen, she was aware of the lack of safe recreational space in her community, which opened her eyes to environmental issues and health inequities. She educated herself on everything from urban planning to the local political landscape and became the youngest serving member of City Heights Area Planning Committee, which was established to create a seat at the table for youth on land-use decisions. Leslie received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at UC Merced and worked at the office for Services for Undocumented Students to develop programs, trainings, workshops, outreach and advocacy to undocumented students and their families. She aims to continue her higher education and pursue her master’s in urban planning. She has committed herself to improve the living conditions of urban communities through an intersectional racial justice lens.


Long Beach

Noah was born and raised in Long Beach and believes youth should have equal access to leadership development opportunties to reach their full potential with an emphasis on providing services to queer and transgender, people of color. Noah volunteers with the California Conference for Equality and Justice supporting racial justice camps, the Invest In Youth campaign and is part of the Youth Design team for the Sons and Brothers camp. Noah is reflective about the ongoing changes to the city from the nature that is being recovered to the changes that have come with gentrification. Noah attends Long Beach Community College and while unsure what to major in is interested in a career that will help the community and lead others to follow in equal opportunity for all. 



Iris chose to apply to the President’s Youth Council to learn from individuals who are advocating for social justice. Raised in Pomona, Iris is the eldest of four siblings and identifies as a Chicano. Her father was an activist within the community and, overtime, Iris began to follow her father’s footsteps. She joined the Pomona Students Union, a branch of Gente Organizada, sophomore year. Stepping into leadership positions, she took on roles within PSU working extensively between school campus and the community to create a bridge. By her senior year, she was the Associated Student Body President, Pomona Students Union Advocate and the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council Secretary. Iris graduated from Garey High School in 2019 and will be attending Citrus College where she will complete her general education before transferring to a university. 


South Kern/Berkeley 

Dean has been involved in Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered advocacy and organizing since he was sixteen. In high school he was a youth trainer with the Gay Straight Alliance Network of Southern California, training groups of LGBTQ and allied youth about relative topics and rights. Dean was also a regular volunteer for the Gay and Lesbian Center of Bakersfield and worked as a canvasser and phone banker for the Dolores Huerta Foundation before he was hired as an Equality Organizer to mobilize youth and adults to advocate for policies and services that address health inequities and school climate affecting LGBTQ students in Kern County. As a facilitator at the Teens 4 Equality program, he focused on youth leadership and advocacy for more inclusive school climates, family acceptance, and spreading awareness about LGBTQ identities and people. Dean was a youth journalist for South Kern Sol from 2014-2018. 

Dean is a student at UC Berkeley, pursuing his degree in sociology. In the future he hopes to continue his work as a community organizer and use his degree to conduct research studies aimed at assessing the needs of marginalized communities.



Until recently I did not care much about voting.

I was never fond of politics or the government, because I was under the impression that my vote didn’t matter. My grandfather used to tell me conspiracy theories about how every election was rigged. I refused to be part of a corrupt system.

But then I met someone who changed my thinking.

In May, We’Ced and Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Merced hosted #GetLoud Youth, a mock election event aimed at teaching local youth about civic engagement. There were about 65 young people who attended. The atmosphere was energetic.

We were informed about how voting works, and also got to learn about candidates running for City Council and County Supervisor seats here in Merced. People in the crowd expressed why this year’s election matters to them and how they plan to make a difference. There was even a voter registration table, because a lot of youth don’t know they can register to vote at the age of 16.

At the event, I was inspired by the words of my lovely mentor, boss and role model, Claudia Gonzalez. I listened as she recounted her personal story and became emotional. She lost her right to vote because of mistakes she made in the past. This year she will be eligible to vote for the first time in her life. Having been on community supervision for many years, she finally discharged.

Claudia said we should not take our right to vote for granted, and that we needed to vote for people like her and thousands of others who want to vote, but have been stripped of this right. Many in the undocumented community, for example, can’t voice their opinion on matters that will directly impact their lives here. They are relying on us.

I thought of all the voiceless people who were counting on me to exercise my right. Then and there, I decided to register to vote.

At the age of twenty-one, I will vote for the first time in my life in November.

I now understand that together we can make a difference, because contrary to what you hear, every vote does matter in this upcoming election.

I found the motivation I needed to be civically engaged. Just look around you and you will too.

It’s time to vote. Wake up and get loud.


Article originally published @

When we embarked on the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) campaign five years ago, we pledged to enhance the participation and engagement of young people from underserved communities in the work that we do, drawing on their leadership to drive change.  Now that we are approaching the mid-point of our ten-year plan, I feel comfortable offering some observations about our progress on this front, and the value we have experienced in our work.

Our commitment to enhanced youth leadership has principally taken shape in three forms: 1) holding ourselves accountable to youth participation statewide, in many of our 14 BHC sites; 2) establishing staff and budgetary support for youth engagement in the “DNA” of our foundation; and 3) implementing the new idea of a President’s Youth Council.

A fourth, critically-related effort was to enhance the visibility and accessibility of our social media platform, which is central to any commitment to engage young people.

Here’s the CEO’s perspective on the efforts at the mid-point of our 10-year BHC campaign:

Youth Engagement & Organizing.  Along the course of our BHC work, we’ve done a few things well and a few things right, and a couple of things not-so-well – we learn along the way.  One of the “right” things we did was to insist on youth participation in each of the 14 BHC sites and our statewide policy work, and we deemed that important enough to measure.  In this way, our program staff, local BHC partners, and program evaluators all knew up front: we expect and will see the leadership of young people engaged and supported.  As President, along with our Board, we receive an annual report that includes the quantity and quality of young people involved with local BHC planning and advocacy.  Strategically, it was meaningful youth engagement that resulted in the very successful campaigns we have supported on issues of 1) school discipline reform and reducing school suspensions statewide, 2) our Sons & Brothers (Boys & Young Men of Color) work, and 3) health coverage for undocumented families (the #Health4All campaign).  We have seen statewide policy- and systems-change victories on all three fronts, and in each and every case young people were visibly engaged leaders and advocates in the changes.  We have supported the activism and advocacy of young people as they reach the halls of the state Capitol in Sacramento, where hundreds of young leaders influence state policy change during Advocacy Week.

Budget & Staffing.  Prior to the implementation of BHC, we were more effective at providing lip service about youth engagement than real and meaningful commitment towards it.  Over the past two years, for the first time, we established both a youth engagement staff position, as well as a line item in the organizational budget to support it.  Admittedly, the staffing and budget support is relatively modest from the standpoint of scale – but we recognized (nudged by young people themselves) that unless youth engagement lived and breathed as a budgetary item, we could not live up to our stated pledge and commitment.  So now, it’s in the budget.

The President’s Youth Council.  As the BHC campaign unfolded, I wanted to consider options for institutionalizing the advice and experiential wisdom of young people from our BHC sites.  We considered the option of adding a youth representative or two to our Board of Directors, but my experience with the solitary “youth representative” on a board or commission of adult representatives has been mixed: the young person is hopelessly outnumbered, they are forced to play by “adult” professional rules, and it is a tremendous amount to expect an adolescent/young adult to carry the voice of hundreds or thousands of young people in a boardroom or commission experience dominated by adults.

So we decided to create a President’s Youth Council, or PYC.  We embarked on a process to identify and invite one young leader from each of the 14 sites, and provide them with organized “face time” with me at least a couple times per year.  We are now in the third year of this “experiment” and I have learned a great deal about how to effectively support youth civic engagement, leadership and advocacy in the battle for health and justice in low-income, ignored communities.  Among the most salient lessons: the roles that matters of adversity, trauma, and stress play in the lives of young people of color, and how we must endeavor to strengthen social-emotional health and wellness approaches to truly build healthy communities across California.  At present, my staff are examining the design of a Youth Wellness Initiative proposed by the PYC, intended to strengthen the narrative of “wellness” and health for young people of color in California.

Social Media.  The matter of social media remains an area of growth and development for us, but as compared to five years ago, we now boast one of the most robust social media engagement platforms of any foundation in the country.  Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, video/digital content, and Google Hangouts are now all “standard operating procedure” at TCE, and we have staff (under the age of 40, of course), grantee partners, and youth leaders themselves all frenetically engaged in advancing the message of health justice.  Our social media reach now numbers more than 100,000 strong and growing.

The building of heathy communities requires energy, creativity, passion, and the will to fight.  Our Board of Directors and staff are thrilled with the value these young people have brought to our work.  I am well pleased with these developments, except for one nagging question: what took me so long to figure this out?

Dr. Bob Ross

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Health happens in communities.

Many people living in low-income communities in the United States are mired in a constant and unremitting fog of stress. This chronic stress is driven by housing insecurity, food insecurity, fear of crime, unemployment, exposure to pollution, and poor education. These things lead to poor community health and are often collectively conceptualized as social determinants of health.

The good news is that this situation is largely manmade and thus can be unmade. Our initiative, Building Healthy Communities (BHC), is a holistic attempt to help reweave the fraying fabric of low-income communities by harnessing the latent power and potential of their residents. Launched in 2010, it is a 10-year, $1 billion, place-based initiative that aims to transform 14 communities by building power (social, political, and economic), implementing proven health-protective policy, and changing the narrative about what produces health (beyond health insurance and individual behavior). BHC’s strategy is grounded in the belief that health is fundamentally political. The idea is to revitalize local democracy to transform these environments into places where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

The BHC model envisions these communities as proving grounds for community-driven policy and practice innovations that, in turn, advance statewide policy and systems change. It creates unprecedented space for community organizing, leadership development, and sustained multi-sector collaboration by enabling residents, community groups, and institutional leaders to work together across all sorts of boundaries, including different races and ethnicities, personal experiences, legacies of discriminatory treatment, and differential levels of power.

Click here to continue reading this article in its entirety on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website.

For me, summer was a time to goof off, but the youth in our 14 Building Healthy Communities (BHC) sites have something else on their mind, in addition to having some fun.

They are on a quest to be better leaders to improve their communities. I am so pleased to announce our first-ever young women’s retreat going on this week at the same time as our 3rd Annual Sons & Brothers summer camp.

As a father of a daughter, I am happy to say that, today, women are no longer bound by past stereotypes and expectations. They are doctors, lawyers, judges and CEOs. They have the power to write their own narratives, and in doing so, they are making the world a better place.

From July 23-27, close to fifty young women will participate in the inaugural Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. These young women will have the opportunity to relax, refresh, and bond, while participating in retreat activities designed to accomplish the following goals:
•    Developing a foundation for women to be lifelong leaders for health equity in California.
•    Building sisterhood and healthy relationships across our BHC sites.
•    Taking time for personal well-being and healing to promote social-emotional health.
•    Empowering young women around their narrative using a gender and racial justice lens.
•    Fun!

Across the 14 BHC sites, young women and female Youth Organizers have been leading campaigns to improve their schools and neighborhoods for both themselves and the boys and young men in their communities. This inaugural Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat will help these young women to continue to grow as leaders through activities that will help them dream about what they can accomplish for themselves and all women, while flexing their leadership muscle. They’ll be learning about the intersections between gender and race, deconstructing beauty and body image ideals, examining trauma and its impact on their lives and communities, as well as discussing a number of other topics relevant to the development of their critical consciousness as young women leaders.

They’ll also have fun which is incredibly important to a healthy mind, body and spirit. They’ll tackle rope courses, rock climbing, paddle boarding, and all kinds of challenging physical activities. And they’ll be able to develop lasting friendships with young women leaders from across the state. All of these activities will help boost their self-confidence and create stronger bonds, which will make them better leaders.

But none of this would have happened had it not been for three staff who took the lead on this endeavor. I offer my special thanks to Program Managers Margarita Luna and Jennifer Chheang, and Program Associate Christie Cardenas. Their seemingly boundless energy and bright spirits will surely result in a healing and rejuvenating retreat for these incredible young women leaders.