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Youth Leadership Institute - Fresno Boys and Men of Color

National Seed Community: Fresno, CA

Healing is core to leadership development, but it’s a journey. Our young people have been on this journey, and as a result, they have seen and grown into their own leadership and their voice and their agency, and I think that's really, really important to underscore.”

Patricia Barahona (Chief Executive Officer)

Youth Leadership Institute’s mission is to build communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive social change by providing training, tools, and resources for effective advocacy and by leveraging the experience of adult allies.

Founded as a program of Youth Leadership Institute (yli) in 2012, Fresno Boys and Men of Color brings together young leaders who heal, advocate, and serve to make a healthy home for all. The program follows yli’s proven model, which weaves together job skills development, adult-youth mentoring relationships, and youth-led advocacy campaigns.

Keeping Youth at the Center

yli staff act as partners, mentors and bridge builders for young people. “Our work is based on the ability to see young people as partners and as assets in their communities, alongside adults.” Mentioned Kato Prado, Program Coordinator.  “The political education that they have been craving has peaked in these times.” Youth participants often apply their experiences from yli to address issues that are important to them.  Recent examples include the local bus system, investing in parks  and youth mental health and wellness. “Participation at our table has really empowered them, because they are not ‘phoning it in,’ they are up in front of city council as a 17 year old, speaking fire.”

Speaking to youth outcomes in the program, Sher Moua (yli Program Manager) explained that “one of our young people who was recruited from the high school, became a paid intern, and now is serving on The California Endowment President's Youth Council (Opens in a new tab). In three years this person has grown into that space and elevates the voices, acting as a voice for young people from the Central Valley to one of the largest foundations in the state of California that's focusing on investing in young people.” 

yli directly serves a cohort of approximately 30 young men of color, from 14 to 26 years old, across Fresno.  Through the initial and matching grants,  yli was able to expand their partnership with Fresno Unified School District. The Edison High School, Cambridge High School, and Del Mar Elementary School chapters met every week to intentionally focus on socio-emotional and personal development.  Youth participants wanted to focus on mental health and wellness so yli connected them with mental health practitioners across Central Valley and the Bay Area to learn about non-clinical approaches, including healing circles and storytelling.

yli is committed to providing youth with opportunities to apply their learnings and take action, polish their leadership and advocacy skills, and connect them with partner organizations and elected officials. Redefining Equity through Policy (Opens in a new tab) (REP 559) is a power-building and organizing program for young people of color interested in advocating for social and racial equity in their communities. The key elements of the program include healing circles, leadership training and leading organizing campaigns.

Youth leaders led a mental health and wellness campaign that included a community scan of  healing practitioners, mental health and wellness clinics, and school-based services. Staff and participants coordinated interviews with community service providers to better understand the services and resources available to young people in the area. One partnership highlighted included the Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco that launched a mental health and wellness campaign called Healing in Our Hands (Opens in a new tab) that our youth learned and shared resources specific to the peer mentoring program approach to healing in schools and communities.

REP 559 builds on the values and legacy of Fresno Boys and Men of Color, a yli program launched in 2012. Over the years, their youth have called for a space inclusive of all gender identities – and for more leadership to create and implement campaigns on issues identified by young people. Moua explained that “the grant enabled us to add to the team and hire a dedicated staff person. Through Kato’s leadership we were able to bring in gender non-conforming young people to the table and really expand and grow the main table.”

Through the main table, yli engages youth to identify and amplify community needs including mental health resources, community parks, and free transportation – all issues that are now being addressed in local policy. In just the past three years, the program has advocated for, and has won, numerous reforms with the potential for broad systems-level impact. yli youth worked with the City of Fresno Youth Commission (Opens in a new tab) to advocate for $300,000 of COVID relief funds in order to prioritize mental health services and programs. This effort includes working with the Fresno County Department of Health and involves yli youth researching non-clinical mental health and wellness approaches to individual and community wellbeing. One mental health service that this work  seeks to build on includes the Fresno County Warm Line (Opens in a new tab).  The Warm Line provides non-emergency emotional and coping support to community members. Warm Line operators provide supportive listening, practical coping ideas, and information on how to get connected to behavioral health services.

Our program has always been known for bringing youth to the table, bringing food to the table and having a really good time.”

Kato Prado, YLI Program Coordinator

Power of Food to Connect & Heal

Prado shared that during the pandemic yli tried to do that as much as possible virtually, doing regular wellness checks and social gatherings via Zoom in order to maintain connectedness among the group. “We offered no-contact delivery of  grocery kits and cooked meals together. It was amazing for them to share their own skills, cultures, and talk about the food they like to make, techniques… we literally learned that our young people never made rice, and we really used those wholesome moments to connect and learn together.”

Mou provided further insight on the power of food and building meaningful relationships with yli participants. Moua stated when they “take young people for food, it's always for pho, we don't ever do coffee, because coffee is so transactional. Pho is transformational. Food is such a powerful way to connect with our young people. To really connect with them on different levels, getting to know them for who they are building from there.”

CEO Barahona highlighted the contribution of front-line staff to promoting healing centered approaches to youth leadership development. “Our shared leadership with our young people and the investment in healing as a core component in our work and holistic journey has been a really huge accomplishment.”


Youth Leadership Institute - Fresno Boys and Men of Color, Fresno, CA

The Fresno Boys and Men of Color is a community of young leaders who heal, advocate, and serve to make a healthy home for all. The program follows the institute’s proven model, which weaves together job skills development, adult-youth mentoring relationships, and youth-led advocacy campaigns. Fresno Boys and Men of Color is continuing to convene mentoring circles with young people, ensuring that despite the social distance, they have access to community and continue to engage with the program’s curriculum.


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