Youth and Government Teens Help Rock the Vote

In effort to strengthen its community, our Southeast-Rio Vista YMCA Youth and Government (Y&G) delegation, in partnership with Cal State LA’s Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs and the League of Women’s Voters, led a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board District 5 Candidate Forum on Wednesday, February 6th in the city of Cudahy.

The student-run forum attracted 200 attendees and demonstrated the positive community impact made possible through Achieve LA, a unique college-readiness program developed by YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles and Cal State LA that creates a pathway to higher education for youth in our city’s most underserved neighborhoods.

LAUSD Board District 5 has the second-highest concentration of Latino students, representing almost 89 percent of the student population. Over a quarter of the students are classified as English learners and 11 percent require special education services. More than 85 percent live in low-income households while an estimated 2,000 students are homeless.  According to, voter turnout in District 5 was only 12 percent in the primary election.

“We trained Southeast-Rio Vista YMCA’s Y&G delegates through our Civic University program, which teaches local government to high school students in LA,” said Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “We taught them how the school board works, we crafted questions together, worked on them for three weeks, and now they are ready to go.”

While the majority of Y&G delegates served as time keepers and event volunteers, Y&G panelists, Luis Cruz, Emily Gabion and Ethan Espinal questioned all ten board candidates about issues such as the impact of charter schools, decreasing class size, and student access to mental health resources.

“I was so happy I came,” said Highland Park resident Damaris Pereda after attending the event, “It was great to see the kids in charge.” Cudahy parent Jashin Liberto appreciated the students’ attempt to focus on specific issues, including mental health, adding, “It’s about taking care of the community as a whole.”

Traditionally, Y&G focuses on statewide legislature. However, this was an opportunity to engage young delegates in local city government. Voters in northeast Los Angeles and in the southeast cities will head to the polls on March 5th for a special election (with a May 14th runoff if needed) to replace former LAUSD board member Ref Rodriguez, who left an empty seat on the board after his resignation last month. The winner will fill the seat for the remainder of Rodríguez’s term, through December 2020.

“Tonight was important because people got an education around what happens in the (school) district and why we elect them (board members),” explained high school senior and four-year Y&G delegate Evelyn Madrigal, who served as the forum’s moderator. “Everyone who came got engaged and is now aware of what’s happening.”

Through its branch locations, including Southeast-Rio Vista YMCA, YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles proudly features the largest Youth & Government delegation in the country. To learn more about Y&G opportunities, simply call or visit your local LA Y.


View images from Southeast-Rio Vista YMCA’s Y&G forum. >