SACOG’s Youth Leadership Academy is Shaping our Region’s Next Gen Leaders
High school students are encouraged to apply for the 2022 program. The application deadline is October 31, 2021.

YLA students posing for a photo

Through the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA), high schoolers learn how to influence change in their communities. Students learn about the civic process and connect with their peers from across the six-county region. “It’s one of the best opportunities to meet people. That’s something there is a shortage of these days,” shared Tate Chatfield, a UC Davis sophomore and a graduate of the first YLA class. Chatfield has served as a peer mentor for the program the past two years and has been able to grow her leadership skills and confidence during her time in the program.

Program participants hear from professionals like Jose Bodipo-Memba, the director of Sustainable Communities at SMUD. Bodipo-Memba believes it is extremely important to give back to the community. “It’s an opportunity to share whatever experience I have, and I learn from the students. These are really active and engaged young people who are committed to service,” he shared. SMUD is a sponsor of the YLA and recognizes that to grow and thrive as a community, we need to invest in tomorrow’s leaders.

The six-month program is a chance for young people to explore careers within the public sector. Tanisha Taylor, chief deputy director for the California Transportation Commission, enjoys presenting to students to show them there are plenty of options in the field of transportation. Taylor says that “no one grows up knowing they want to go into it [planning]. It’s important to let them know there is more than just being a doctor or a lawyer.” Mentorship from community leaders like Bodipo-Memba and Taylor allows YLA participants to get a broad view of career paths available they may not have known about otherwise.

High schoolers learn the dynamics between elected officials, policy advocates, and community members through presentations from local leaders and hands-on workshops. For example, they get to explore planning concepts with everyday objects to design the community of their dreams. Participants also roleplay a mock city council to understand the dynamics between elected officials and constituents, the program gives them a chance to playout the government process in real-time. Throughout all the activities, students are most surprised to learn how much say they have in shaping decisions that effect their future.

Development of the YLA was spearheaded by SACOG Director and City of Sacramento Councilmember Jay Schenirer, driven by his belief that youth must be a part of the civic process. “The YLA provides a hands-on experience that gives young people an inside perspective about the intricacies of government and exposure to the process,” explains Schenirer. “Through YLA, young people better understand how decisions are made, and provide insights from their unique perspective – to inform our plans now, which will impact them as adults.”

One student applied what she learned in YLA and took real world action to improve a run-down park in her neighborhood. “Parents didn’t want to take their kids there,” shared Metzli Lemus, a senior at Rio Americano High School noting they no longer felt comfortable in the park that had an increase of drug use and loitering. Lemus saw its potential and wanted to restore it to the beautiful gathering spot she always remembered it to be. She applied what she learned at YLA and surveyed over 100 of her neighbors to find out their vision for the park. She presented the feedback to her neighborhood association and convinced leaders to make the improvements part of their community’s master plan.

Now, community members once again gather to attend events like movies in the park, and ice cream socials. “I couldn’t have done it without help,” Lemus recalls all the support she received from fellow neighbors, her sister, and support from Councilmember Schenirer’s office who were crucial to helping complete the project. “YLA opened my eyes to a whole new world,” shared Lemus who is now applying to colleges that offer Community and Regional Development as a major to continue her journey in regional development.  

Youth are exploring what lies ahead, and it is our job to equip them with the tools they need to lead the charge.

The 2022 YLA is now accepting applications from high school students grades 9-12 in the SACOG six-county region. Applications are due by October 31, 2021. Click here to learn more and complete an application.