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.



Maria Ambriz is a Health Equity Organizer with the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council. At MBCLC, Maria co-facilitates the Health For All Committee, which was instrumental in organizing the expansion of Esperanza Care. Esperanza Care allows undocumented Californians in Monterey County to receive certain medical services.

Prior to working at MBCLC, Maria was a full-time student of Politics at UC Santa Cruz. While at UCSC Maria participated in UCLA Labor Center Dream Summer Fellowship. In 2012, Maria was also a Health Career Connections intern with the East Salinas Building Healthy Communities site.

In the future, Maria plans to earn a Master’s degree in Public Policy and continue organizing in Monterey County and in La Estancia, Michoacan, Mexico where is she is a native.

In her free time, Maria enjoys playing tennis, going to concerts and cooking for her family.


Efrain Botello is a youth leader that was born and raised in Fresno, CA. He is now working as an Outreach Worker at Fresno Barrios Unidos, a community benefits organization that empowers youth and families through education, wellness, and advocacy. Some of his responsibilities at Fresno Barrios Unidos have included conducting outreach to many community members throughout Fresno and helping support the El Joven Noble rites of passage program. Through working with Fresno Barrios Unidos, Efrain has also been heavily involved with the Fresno Boys and Men of Color initiative where he has advocated for the improvement of his beloved community’s health. Some of the many issues Efrain has advocated for have included bringing safe parks to his community, creating healthy relationships between the Fresno Police Department and youth across Fresno, and making sure everyone feels safe in schools by making Fresno Unified School District a sanctuary for all. Efrain is now studying Sociology at Fresno City College and will soon transfer to CSU, Fresno to finish his education. After graduating, Efrain dreams of serving as a mentor and counselor for youth in his community. He wants to leave a positive impact on young people’s lives so they can be able to reach their full potential. In his free time, Efrain loves anything that will keep him active. Some of his favorite hobbies include playing soccer, weightlifting, listening to music, and hanging out with his loved ones.

Long Beach

A proud product of Long Beach, California, Christopher Covington has dedicated his life to a future where all who have historically been marginalized, made invisible, and unheard are uplifted and empowered to challenge and deconstruct the systems of oppression. He is a multiracial, queer person of color with many identities and lived experiences that deeply connects him to intersectional movements and spaces. Growing up working class, he was determined that he would not be boxed in by the limitations others placed on him. His dedication and determination to advancing issues led him to organize with his community in the fight for social justice. Their work produced major local and national policy, systems and cultural shifts in the fields of labor, education, LGBTQ+ and health. He is the Youth Leadership and Campaigns Specialist for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network, empowering trans and queer youth to unite for racial and gender justice. In his free time, he enjoys caring for his dog, Leo and his houseplants, engaging in wellness practices and making memories with friends and loved ones.


For the past four years Jasmine, along with countless young people in South Stockton, has been finding ways to build community and civic engagement. Life for her and many Stockton youth have elements of social and economic poverty, and it is her personal experience that drives her to do this work.  Jasmine has worked on issues related to disadvantaged student opportunities. She has served as a site director for summer programs with the Housing Authority and the University of the Pacific to promote literacy. In addition, she has worked with 100 students over the past four Summers to help them design and execute community action plans, thereby developing active solutions to the problems facing their community.  In her role as Student Organizer for the South Stockton Schools Initiative since October 2015, she and other South Stockton partners have created a park beautification campaign aimed at reducing blight, graffiti, and gang-related crime with the goal of increasing the number of families who use neighborhood parks. She has worked to help bring access to fresh produce in food desert areas in south Stockton and is currently working with students to fight for education improvements through policy change. Currently, she partners with Stockton’s Mayor Tubbs, Facebook, Street Code Academy and EnCorps STEM teacher fellowships to bring more access to STEM and coding opportunities for students in south Stockton. Jasmine will continue to dedicate her time and heart to uplift, empower and equip the future generation to reach their highest potential.

Santa Ana

Deyaneira is an undocu-queer mujer seeking to disrupt cycles of violence in her community. She is an active community organizer in her hometown of Santa Ana currently working on immigrant rights, queer liberation and youth power. She supports youngsters in her city to transition into leadership pipelines and works as a Wellness Coordinator for California’s statewide Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat.



South Los Angeles

Nile Haynes-Irby is a full-time student at George Fox University.  He studies Engineering with a focus on the mechanical side. He enjoys building objects that affect human emotions. Before PYC, Nile served on a South Los Angeles Youth Council. The council helped Nile build leadership and awareness of issues in the community. Peace Over Violence was another organization he participated in that helped prevent domestic violence through art. In addition, Nile worked with Brotherhood Crusade in building young men to strive for success. Other work includes designing a youth survey across California to gather ideas of what youth think about their community. Recently, he has been a Grant Advisor for The Pollination Project helping fund youth grants. Nile graduated from View Park High School. After receiving his degree, he plans on building his own engineering company. Nile loves to go swimming and play video games. Fun Fact about Nile is he drank a FIJI water bottle in FIJI. He continues to support his family and community. 

City Heights

Binti Musa, recently finished her last year at Grossmont College with two associate degrees in Sociology and Social Work. She is hoping to transfer to the University of Las Vegas, Nevada to major in Sociology. She was born in Somali and came to the United States in March 2004 at the age of nine. She has been living in San Diego ever since. Before PYC, She was a full-time student and employed. In addition, Binti has been involved with many community groups: City Heights Youth For change, Parent Student Resident organization, Food Justice Momentum team, Somali Bantu association, Say San Diego, and and Sisterhood Circle.  

She is interested in doing community organizing with upon graduation. She loves giving back to her community and working with them. Whenever she is out, she is at community meetings and listening for her community’s needs and how she can better assist them. She loves being outdoors, hiking and trying something different.

Boyle Heights

Karla Ortiz’s journey started back in high school Junior year 2015, when her mother, Yanira Jones, encouraged her to become more active in her community. Karla comes from Boyle Heights, a small but powerful community fighting for its justice against gentrification and a home to many immigrants. Karla’s mom found The East Los Angeles Women’s Center (ELAWC), which centers its focus to ensure that all women, girls and their families live in a place of safety, health, and personal well-being, free from violence and abuse, with equal access to necessary health services and social support, with an emphasis on Latino communities.  Through ELAWC Karla discovered her voice, and the power she has. She became and continues to be empowered by other powerful women for whom she now has much gratitude. Karla volunteered for a year with The East Los Angeles Women’s Center and was later hired as a Youth Organizer. 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 now sees that she has blossomed into a powerful and courageous leader. Now three years later, she has found herself helping other young female-identified women to also grow and blossom. Karla has a position in the planning team and makes the effort to ensure that Sisterhood Rising is a safe space for young girls to finally step out of the box in which society puts them. For some of these young women, Sisterhood Rising is the only space that makes them feel capable of breaking through that small box. Now that she is on the PYC team, she wants to make sure that her voice is heard and that she is able to create a change within her community and the movement starts with her. What Karla wants the world to know about Boyle Heights: “This may be a small city but don’t underestimate us, with the power of organizing we are stronger together”.


Leslie was born in Acapulco, Guerrero in Mexico and migrated to the United States at the age of 2 to City Heights, a community in San Diego, CA. She is an active community organizer advocating to improve the living conditions of the youth of color in our state. Specifically, Leslie is working to reduce suspension and expulsion rates in the school system and eliminate the school-to-prison- pipeline. Leslie is now in her fourth year at UC Merced working to receive her bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She also serves as a Student Coordinator at UC Merced’s Services for Undocumented Students. She aims to continue her higher education and pursue a masters in Urban Planning to develop healthier communities across the state.


Olondis Walker was born in Oakland, CA, and has been involved in Community Work since 2006 after being in the gun crossfire near his home and shot 4 times. Upon recovery, Olondis decided that he would make music that would move his peers in a positive direction. With extreme passion he created songs with compelling stories and messages about street survival and positive choices. He also began to share more than making music with others. He shared his time, experience and studio savvy when he joined the Turf Unity Music Project to educate youth in the neighborhoods. He also helped start a Black Men’s Group called Determination with United Roots. He has toured throughout the Bay Area and has graced many a stage with artists like Kurtis Blow, Pep Love of Hieroglyphics, San Quinn, MistahFAB, Goapele, The Jacka and Too Short. His contributions to the The Turf Unity compilation led it to sell over 6,000 units independently, and also received a “Best of The Bay award” from East Bay Express.

Berkeley/South Kern

Dean Welliver is a student at UC Berkeley, pursuing his degree in Sociology. He was previously an LGBTQ Equality Organizer for the Dolores Huerta Foundation. As the Equality Organizer, he mobilized LGBTQ youth and adults to advocate for policies and services to address health inequities and school climate affecting the LGBTQ community in Kern County. He was also a facilitator of the Teens 4 Equality program, where he focused on building the leadership of other youth leaders, providing recreational opportunities, and advocating together for more inclusive school climates, family acceptance, and spreading awareness in our community about LGBTQ identities and people. Dean was also a youth journalist for South Kern Sol and has been writing articles relating to community health, with a focus on education and LGBTQ communities, since early 2014.

Dean has been involved in LGBT advocacy and organizing since he was sixteen. In high school, he was a Youth Trainer with the GSA Network of Southern California, training groups of LGBTQ and allied youth about LGBTQ topics and rights in schools all over Southern California. At home in Bakersfield, Dean was 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 being hired as an Organizer.

In the future, Dean hopes to continue doing community organizing and use his degree to conduct research studies aimed at assessing the needs of marginalized communities. In his free time, Dean enjoys spending time with his dogs, hanging out with friends and family, and reading.


Sompong Viengvilai was born and raised in Richmond, CA. Being involved with different non-profit organizations gave him the opportunity to pursue film production. Ever since then, Sompong received a B.A in Cinematic Art from San Francisco State University. His areas in emphasis within cinema are postproduction work such as editing, and minor work in animation. His recent film production includes videos for the 2019 TCE Youth Awards.

Like any other youth growing up in a low-income neighborhood, he’s been through rough times and his community was there to help support him and his family. Therefore, Sompong is passionate about giving back to his community, and others.




Founding Member (2011-2016) & Youth Engagement Fellow (2017-2019)
Community Affiliation: Eastern Coachella Valley




Founding Member (2011-2018)
Community Affiliation: Del Norte




Founding Member (2011-2017)
Community Affiliation: Richmond




Member (2016-2017)
Community Affiliation: Stockton




Founding Member (2011-2016)
Community Affiliation: Fresno




Founding Member (2011-2017)
Community Affiliation: Sacramento




Founding Member (2011-2017)
Community Affiliation: Oakland




Founding Member (2011-2014)
Community Affiliation: Eastern Coachella Valley




Founding Member (2011-2016)
Community Affiliation: Boyle Heights






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.