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 Youth Advocacy Changes Lives

By Sal Garcia, San Diego County Office of Education

As an awkward middle school student in 1995, I heard on the school announcements, "If you want community service hours, Club Live will be visiting St. Vincent De Paul Village to provide homeless outreach to families." I wanted to know more about Club Live, which is the middle school program through the Friday Night Live (FNL) Partnership. FNL works together with young people throughout the county to promote positive youth leadership opportunities free of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and violence. I reached out to Jaye Carballo, the Club Live advisor at school. Little did I know that her support and this program would provide me with a lifelong mission and help direct my passion for advocacy.

That spring, I attended a youth-led conference called Spring Jam at Camp Palomar that was life-changing. High school students led workshops, the conference had outside presenters, we connected with students from throughout the county in small groups, and there was even a talent show and dance. The experience connected me with the community and encouraged me to work to serve others.

In high school, the youth staff leaders made such an impact on me that I signed up as soon as I could to become one myself so I could make those connections with other students. The conferences were just the beginning with FNL. There was also a school club component where you could help improve your school and community from the inside. FNL provided me a deep and rich connection to the community — an opportunity for advocacy.

After graduating from high school, I became a teacher's assistant/intern for FNL. I learned to support youth not as a peer, but as an adult. I learned to give youth the tools, step aside, and watch them lead. Being an intern gave me an opportunity to see FNL from behind the scenes and to learn clerical and office skills.

We still coordinate the youth conference in much the same way as when I was in high school, though we have expanded the ways FNL supports students. In the 23 years I have been involved with FNL, I have experienced it all, from student to manager. I am where I am today because a caring adult saw something in me and helped me refine rough skills in leadership and public speaking. FNL is more than just a program; it is a place to belong. It gives you an opportunity to see past your community and to see other young people excited to be the change their community needs. As the manager, I ensure FNL keeps growing and innovating but never loses its heart. Young people need a safe environment, opportunities for leadership and advocacy, meaningful relationships with peers and adults, and opportunities for relevant skill development.

I believe in the message FNL provides and what it does for young people. I know FNL changes lives. It did for me.

The San Diego County Friday Night Live Partnership is a cooperative program between the California Department of Health Care Services and the California Friday Night Live Partnership. It is supported locally in part by a federal block grant administered by the County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services and the San Diego County Office of Education.