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Davis, California

Monday, July 26, 2021

UC Davis graduates head south for social change

Knowledge garnered at UC Davis is being put to use with the Kern Youth Network.

Started by Katie Valenzuela, a UCD graduate student in community development, the idea of the program is to create a youth presence in politics and decision-making around Kern County, a large agricultural community in the central valley.

Carissa Lopez, an alumna in community and regional development, helped organized the network that is expected to be up and running by summer 2010.

Teenage participants will work with adult supervisors during the summer to gather research, which will then be used to bring attention to youth-issues in the public sector.

“The goal is to have an organization of youth that could function as a truly representative body,” Valenzuela said. “We’ll have youth from all different areas [in Kern County], and each summer have a research project that they can do to collect data and then organize their next campaigns.”

This summer they hope to have 12 to 15 student representatives from ages 14 to 18.

Though Valenzuela currently lives in Davis, Lopez is in Bakersfield working as the project coordinator. Both graduates grew up in Bakersfield, inspiring the location choice, Valenzuela said.

“[The] Bakersfield community has a lot of youth leadership programs, but nothing they can come to as a source of information and research,” Lopez said. “We really feel that if young people get involved more and become community activists, once they go to college and get an education they can come back and dig their hands in what they were born in.”

Though Kern Youth Network will be based in southern California, the group received consulting from Youth in Focus, a Sacramento-area organization that aids in the development of youth-led action research.

Their studies at UC Davis helped them structure Kern Youth Network, while Youth in Focus assisted with the more specific elements of youth outreach, Lopez said.

For this reason, Valenzuela and Lopez said they have clear ideas of the direction of Kern Youth Network. Currently the program is at a standstill, waiting for funding.

The organization has applied for several grants around California. So far the outlook is positive, Lopez said.

“Right now, what we’re getting funding for is our pilot project. Katie and I just want to be sure that if we form this organization, it’s going to be actively used and in demand in the community,” Lopez said. “[We’re using this summer] as a small test run of a research project and will see how it goes.”

No theme has been chosen yet for the summer project. A cause will be decided on at the beginning of summer by the youth participants.

“We’re trying to promote it and make it appealing to young people as a summer job. We thought if we did it as a summer project, they would have more time on their hands to dedicate,” Lopez said. “We’re trying to get stipends for them so it’s not a financial burden.”

Though both women said that they look forward to getting started, ultimately they hope for Kern Youth Network to be independent.

“This is what I’m focusing on right now, but I think the goal of any good community organizer is to be not needed,” Valenzuela said. “To really get it to the point where it will be self-sustaining, and the youth can keep it going year to year would be my ideal.”

Lopez said that the future of Kern Youth Network looks promising.

“Things can happen here,” Lopez said. “Kern Youth Network will be another venue to promote change within the community.”

BECKY PETERSON can be features@theaggie.org.

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