Youth Advocates Program

Partnering with Youth to Reimagine Services and Systems

California Children’s Trust (CCT) and California Coalition for Youth (CCY) have partnered with youth leaders to create a Youth Advocates program to:

  • Support youth in building their advocacy skills.
  • Offer youth opportunities to change and influence the systems that impact them.
  • Acknowledge the wisdom and experience young people bring to complex issues by compensating them for their advocacy.

Our systems are failing youth. In 2020, CCY surveyed its youth members and found that even before the pandemic, over 50% of respondents were sheltering in a car, 78% needed help finding a job, and all reported needing support, with most citing need for employment, food, health care, and housing. Adding to that, 1 in 3 adolescents in California report symptoms that meet the criteria for serious psychological distress, but only 5% of low-income teenagers on Medicaid in California received screenings for depression and a follow-up plan. And Black, Indigenous, and youth of color in California experienced more depressive-like symptoms than their white peers.

We are taking our lead from young people to create solutions for a more responsive, just, and equitable system of support.

Youth Advocacy Opportunities

Youth Advocacy Fellowship (YAF)

The YAF offers youth an opportunity to take action, learn, and continue to grow in their advocacy skills, There are already over 300 fellows drawing on their lived experience to explain how and why current youth-serving systems need to change. Advocacy opportunities include:

  • Public Hearings
  • Commission and Workgroup Meetings
  • Youth Focus Groups and Listening Sessions
  • Written Testimony and Surveys

If you are a youth interested in learning more, or a partner agency wanting to refer a youth for a Youth Advocacy Fellowship opportunity, please contact us at

Youth Advocacy Board

Established in early 2020, the YAB is comprised of youth across California who provide their voice to issues impacting their peers from lack of services, mental health supports, homelessness, and more. Board members serve a one-year term. Learn more about YAB on our application form.

Aria Rani Sindledecker – She/Her

Areas of Expertise: 

    • Video Editing: Adobe Premiere and After Effects
    • Filmmaker: Sony Alpha a7III Mirrorless and Sony Handycam FDR-AX53
    • Public Speaking: two speeches, KCI SELebrate Learning Event and the CBHA Virtual Town Hall, and two panels, SF Commonwealth and CHACMV
    • Writing: authored two novels and write my own speeches and scripts for my documentaries
    • Leadership: I founded, the Empathizers, a mental health anti-stigma club at my school. We are now up to almost 40 members. I am an Editor-in-Chief of my Yearbook. I am a Director and Anchor for our School Announcements.

I am an advocate and activist for the mental health challenges that affect one in four people in our society. I have been surrounded by those struggling with these issues throughout my 13 years. Almost two years ago, I created “Power to Save a Life,” an award-winning documentary about the effects of social media on teens. Since then, I have become  interested in increasing peer-to-peer communication, founding the Empathizers, a school club to fight the stigma against discussions of mental health issues. I also just completed  “Stigma-Free Nation: Pathway to Parity,”  my second, award-winning documentary about the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). In order to raise awareness about the importance of peer-to-peer communication, I provided my perspective on a SF Commonwealth Club Youth Mental Health Crisis panel of UCSF professors and clinicians, at the Krause Center of Innovation’s SELebrate Learning event, on a panel for the Clinicians of CHACMV about local mental health improvements needed in school-based programs, and will be speaking at the next CBHA Virtual Town Hall about improving peer-to-peer support and communication in California for all adolescents.

Anya Sabhnani – She/Her

Areas of Expertise: 

    • Violin/Music 
    • Community Service 
    • Communication 
    • Leadership 

 I have lived in San Diego my whole life. My free time consists of time spent biking, listening to music, playing the violin, reading, and most significantly, community service. For as long as I can remember, community service has been a part of my life. I began in Kindergarten with Girl Scouts, and have since branched out to targeting several different prevalent issues in society through service projects. From creating a program to teach underprivileged immigrant children English, to actively teaching younger students the violin, I have worked with various youth from different backgrounds. My service within my community made me more receptive to youth outside of San Diego in need of a voice that calls for change to better their lifestyle. 



Harvind Singh Grewal – He/Him

Areas of Expertise: social justice, youth empowerment  

Harvind Grewal is a 21-year-old community college student at Bakersfield College. Born and raised in the U.K, he now calls California his new home. He works as the Director of Legislative Affairs at the Bakersfield College Student Government Association and is a central voice for advocacy, legislation and lobbying on and off campus. He studies political science and hopes to get involved in legal work in the future after completing his bachelor’s degree.  He joined the California Coalition for Youth in September 2021, and this was his first youth-led organization he was part of. He believes that the CCY Youth Advisory Board is an impeccable and inclining initiative to help him and his fellow youth to represent themselves and the issues that affect them in their daily lives to help try and tackle and eradicate those things which seem to be the root of the problem. There are two things which Harvind is enthused about: youth empowerment and social justice. This is where his passion lies.

Kassandra “Kassy” Poles – She/Her

Areas of Expertise: Advocating for Previously Incarcerated and Disadvantaged Students, Mental Health Awareness, Athletic Training, Technology and Social Media, working with kids.

Kassy is a 23 year old college student who was born and raised in Vallejo, CA by her loving and supported family. This is her first year on CCY’s Youth Advocacy Board. She currently works at a Nonprofit organization called Putnam Clubhouse, an accredited Clubhouse International facility, that focuses on the social and vocational rehabilitation of those with severe mental illness. Since she was 8 she has struggled with several mental health diagnoses including: ADHD, Bipolar 2, an Eating Disorder, Anxiety and Substance Abuse issues. Having been previously incarcerated, she is committed to fighting to make change in social inequality and advocating for more accessible substance abuse resources, especially for those under 30.  She remains resilient and wants to help others by showing them it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, you are in the driver seat and you can make your life what you want it to be. When she isn’t working on homework or working, she’ll either be reading, in the kitchen, painting my nails, petting cats or hammocking in a park. 

Keanu Shui – He/Him

Areas of Expertise: Advocacy, Outreach, Inclusion

I love advocating, spoken word poetry, and anything that involves strategy. I’m passionate about how inclusion can help shape a person and their identity.

Eric Yang – He/Him

Area of Expertise: Mentoring, Education Reform, Interpersonal Skills

Growing up, I always wanted to help other and build a brighter future,  leading me to join the California Coalition for Youth board. Outside of the  classroom, I am part of student groups, such as my high school’s Peer Counseling,  to work with others. In my free time, I like playing the French Horn and playing  Monopoly. 



Mahaalakshumi Narendar – She/Her

Areas of Expertise: Youth Advocate

Mahaalakshumi Narendar is a 17-year-old youth who firmly believes that a healthy community is the backbone to the betterment of the world. She is motivated to work harder every day as she learns about the lived experiences of her peers and AAPI in her community, which has inspired her to create changes. Her interest in advocacy began in High School as she served multiple Student and Diversity Boards and addressed civil rights issues during cultural events in her school. She also serves as California Coalition of Youth’s YAB moderator and has been working towards mental health and homelessness advocacy for the past 3 years. She has an immense interest in public policy and hopes to pursue a career in Law.  It is exciting to see what change we as a community can create when we put in the effort!!

Rohan Tirumala – He/Him

Areas of Expertise: Some of my skills include communication, leadership, and organization. Through my non-profit and other activities such as my school’s ASB I have implemented these skills to lead and create different events. For example, I have directed the fundraising of more than $4,000 for COVID-relief funds to several organizations over the past couple of years.

Rohan is a senior at Cupertino High School in Cupertino, CA. He is the founder and president of the youth-led organization, Stress Free Teens (SFT) which aims to spread mental health awareness with members nationwide. Having experienced the pressures and struggles of mental health first hand, he realized the need to raise awareness about mental health in youth. The primary goal of the organization is to provide advocacy for de-stigmatizing and demystifying mental health in youth. He is also serving as a youth advisor for Stanford’s Allcove center of mental health and youth well-being. By being part of the advisor team, he participates in brainstorming sessions, coming up with ideas for YAG projects such as mindfulness, dealing with family, cultural awareness, college admissions and decisions process, etc. In his free time, Rohan enjoys spending time with friends, playing the piano, and exploring new foods and music!

Raghava Kodavatikanti – He/Him

Areas of Expertise: advocacy, public speaking, assembly/senate bills

I am a junior in high school, born and raised in Folsom, CA. As someone deeply interested in public policy, CCY’s Youth Advisory Board provides me with both the platform and the resources to advocate for policy change. Through homeless outreaches and research projects, I have both learned and witnessed how the impact of lack of healthcare, food, and other basic necessities affect the demographic of California. Now, I work with government officials and elected leaders to help make a positive impact in my community. On this board, I hope to advocate for more policy change and improve the lives of disadvantaged communities.




Our Youth Advocates in Action

Youth Advocacy Fellow Submits Letter of Support on AB 586 for Increased School Mental Health Services

“I believe there are two critical things that students need to feel more in control of their own mental health and wellness. First, teachers and students themselves need to have the training and support to really listen to each other and build trusting relationships–in the classroom and embedded in the culture of the school. When we feel secure with our relationships, it lifts the stigma of mental health, and we are in it together. Second, we need programs that educate everyone about mental health and social-emotional wellness. It is something that permeates our levies, and students want to be seen as full people, not just people who are stressed about grades. These types of comprehensive and relationship-building supports take time and investment–they take the commitment that I’m seeing from AB 586.”

– Isabel, excerpt from letter of support for AB 586

Youth Advocacy Fellow Joins CCT for Public Testimony, Assembly Health Hearing on the DHCS Telehealth Proposal

Following on CCT’s recently released report, NO GOING BACK: Providing Telemental Health Services to California Children and Youth After the Pandemic, CCT youth advocates shared their lived experience to amplify key recommendations and advocate for the inclusion of phone and text messaging for all Medi-Cal providers in DHCS’s Telehealth proposal.

“If I’m struggling on any particular day with my issues, I reach out to my therapist first via text because I know she’ll get back to me as soon as she can. She will text with me and stay on the thread as long as I need to get stable and go on with my day.”

– G, Oakland, 20 years old; Full Testimony.

Youth Advocacy Board member engages in Historic Medi-Cal Managed Care Re-Procurement Process

Levi Deatherage, board member of California Coalition for Youth and CCT Fellow, responded to the DHCS Request for Information back in October 2020, urging the state to involve youth in the process and stating:

“Mandating inclusion of the youth perspective and voice in MCP contracts, especially to inform MCP partnerships with community-based organizations and schools, is a critical first step.” Full response.

If you are a youth interested in learning more, or a partner agency wanting to refer a youth for a Youth Advocacy Fellowship opportunity, please contact us at