Last Tuesday, November 21st, students from Oceana High School were recognized by the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) for the work they’ve been doing in their community.
The Youth Leadership Institute is a San Mateo Countywide nonprofit organization, as well as a community service opportunity, that focuses on giving young people a platform to help restore social and economic justice in their communities. “YLI chooses to engage youth as part of the solution and nurtures this passion, providing ways for youth to lead and channel this motivation into effective community change,” says Eduardo Gonzalez, the YLI coordinator who has been working with Oceana students for the past few months. “Through youth-led action research, our youth leaders investigate community challenges and potential solutions. They learn how to develop a campaign and build a network of community members to educate others and create policy change.”
Essentially, YLI is divided into different branches that are placed in different cities across the county. Some of their work includes improving conditions around educational and health inequities, substance abuse, public transportation, housing justice and many other issues.
Sebastian Strawser, an Oceana student, describes his involvement with YLI as a very rewarding experience: “Ever since 2016, when I became more politically informed, I wanted to find a way to better my local community and YLI has allowed me to do that and what’s been so great is meeting new people who share that same passion for community change.”
Oceana students are currently involved with a branch under YLI that focuses on limiting a particular financial predatory practice from growing in Pacifica: payday lenders.
“This predatory financial practice targets people of low-income, offering small loans with minimal requirements,” describes Gonzalez. “With only 2 weeks to pay back the loans, people are often caught in a vicious debt cycle forced to take out additional loans to pay off the ones before.”
The team’s response to this economic injustice: pass a local ordinance that limits the number of payday lenders in Pacifica.
Over the summer, the students undertook research for their cause. They went to different shopping centers and nearby college campuses to conduct public opinion surveys. They met with different people, such as medical experts from Samuel Merritt Hospital, to discuss how financial stress affects a person’s health. They also met with lawyers from East Palo Alto Legal Services to create an ordinance to present to city council. They created a campaign and presented their efforts to different local organizations such as to the Pacifica Progressive Alliance. Finally on July 24th, they presented their ordinance to the Pacifica City Council.
When asked why it is so important for youth to stay involved in their local community, Florence Chang, another Oceana student involved with YLI, stressed the importance of youth involvement, “A lot of these issues–housing justice, payday lending, public transportation– these are all issues that affect us. We aren’t adults who can choose to move somewhere else. We are kids and we are very limited. And being apart of the community and staying involved in what’s going on, helps us know what’s happening and makes changes that we can benefit from. Before I joined YLI, I knew nothing of City Council and now I know so much. And the most valuable thing I know is that when we, young people, are there, we have power. We have say in the decisions they [City Council] make and that’s an empowering thing.”
On Monday, November 27th, these students finally achieved their goal. In a 5-0 vote, Pacifica’s City Council passed the local ordinance ensuring no more payday lenders will be able to open in Pacifica, signifying a huge win for the students.
However, their anti-payday lending work isn’t over yet. Chang described her team’s next steps would be to begin advocating for healthier financial services: “We can say this is bad all we want, but if we don’t have better options, people are still stuck with payday lending.”
Interested in joining? YLI meets every Wednesday in Room 402 from 1-2:30pm. You get community service hours and free food. You can contact Eduardo Gonzalez at: (760) 578 402 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.