At age 14, Gabriela was experiencing an onslaught of difficult circumstances, from being cyber bullied, to missing quality time with her father, to being sexually harassed by someone she thought was a friend. She didn’t know where to turn, who to talk to, or who she could trust.
Fortunately for Gabriela, her childhood friend was involved in the YMCA Youth and Government program, and was sporting a neon green Y sweatshirt at school. This caught Gabriela’s interest and she inquired about the program. Her friend told her about “the coolest program ever.”
“The way she described it as a 14 year old was, three times a year you leave home and go to Camp Roberts for a weekend. Then you spend an entire week in Sacramento with other teens our age,” Gabriela recalls. Badly in need of a reset, she jumped at the chance to escape her problems and make new friends, enrolling in the program already underway.
With the program already in full swing, Gabriela left the first meeting feeling intimidated, “I felt like I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I thought, these kids are way smarter than me. There’s no way I could ever be this knowledgeable about legislation.” But the program advisor, Brian Cook, thought otherwise. He talked to Gabriela right after and said, ”If you stick with this, you’re going to love it.”
Gabriela continued to the first conference, and sure enough, Brian was right. “I fell in love with it,” she recalls. “The moment you hear everyone cheering and screaming, this wave hits you. There’s so much love in the air. It’s infectious.”
The program has had a lasting effect on Gabriela. Not only did the supportive community help her gain self-esteem, she also learned valuable life skills. “I learned about the legislative process, how to debate, how to speak properly, and how to do things that I use in everyday life; and I learned transferrable skills that can lead me into a better future.”
Gabriela discovered a passion for legislation and politics. In fact, she graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in political science, focused on law, politics, and policy.
Since her time in the Youth & Government program, her commitment to the Y has only grown stronger. Her program advisor invited her to become a camp counselor. Having learned the value of trying new things, and experiencing firsthand the impact that a Y leader can have on a young life, Gabriela signed on for the summer. “I’m now going into my ninth year at YMCA Summer Day Camp. I’ve had the opportunity to advance from being a leader aide to assistant director to director.”
Gabriela is grateful she grew up with the Y and proud to work for YMCA of Silicon Valley, an organization that helps youth become strong and independent young leaders. “Everyone is there to create a warm and inviting place for all involved, not just for the children, where they feel like they can be part of something greater than themselves.”