The Youth Voice program at the La Familia counseling center in Sacramento just “graduated” its first group of participants during a humble ceremony earlier this week. The South Sacramento program provides young people between the ages of 14-18 with the opportunity to develop leadership skills through community service projects, learning how to influence system change, taking part in educational and career opportunities, and engaging in peer mentoring impact youth, so they become stakeholders in their community.

Youth Leadership Coordinator Apolonia Cortez has mixed feelings about watching her first group move on.

“I’m very excited to meet the next group of Youth Voice participants in the coming weeks, but I’m also sad to see the “old kids” because I’ve been with them for an entire year,” Cortez says. “This group did a great job, they developed a lot of great skills, I’m just really proud of them.”

When asked to pick out one event that stood out in her mind as the highlight of the program, Cortez insisted there were actually two.

“I can’t pick one. Our two big events, the D.R.E.A.M. Act symposium and the Bulling Prevention symposium, both of those really touched people. In both of them we had a panel of youth that shared their experiences. Both of them made me cry and made the entire crowd cry.  They were both just a very vulnerable moment where they all learned about each other.”

Youth Rise participant Edder Cruz says he learned a lot during his time in the program. He plans on attending college in the fall, and will take the lessons he’s learned from Cortez there with him.

“We have to help the youth coming up behind us. If we don’t, who else will?” Cruz says.

Information about the upcoming Youth Voice program and how to enroll will up soon at their Facebook page.