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.

Sriya Chilla – She/Her

I was born and raised in San Diego, CA with my brother. I grew up in a good community with loving parents, unaware that I lived in a bubble. As I grew older, I started to realize that my little bubble was not representative of the rest of the world; not everyone was as privileged as me. I set my mind to using my time and resources to serve my community. From teaching children music to organizing food drives in my school district, I committed myself to ensuring that everyone in my community succeeds in achieving their goals for the future. Knowing that I might have an impact on someone’s life or bring a smile to their face keeps me motivated and working hard. Now, I’m a part of CCY’s Youth Advisory Board, using my voice to push bills that change lives across California.

Levi Deatherage – He/Him

Levi Deatherage has been an advocate for Youth Experiencing Homelessness since his first trip to Sacramento when he was 16. He became homeless as a teenager and was homeless off and on for several years. He is now a Program Manager for Family Assistance Program, the same agency that runs the shelter he stayed in as a teen. He often works with elected officials and nonprofit/ community leaders to improve the programs and policies that serve our young people.


Nghia Do – He/Him

I was an only child raised in a house of mental suffering, particularly on my father’s side. I transferred to Anaheim for my freshman year of high school; I became depressed due to the novel environment and feelings of hopelessness. Fortunately, I found a passionate counselor who I came to everyday to hangout and have fun; for the first time having a place where I truly felt safe. She recommended a dual enrollment class for psychology, and this experience forever changed my life. Next, I started to become very interested in psychology and mental health. I would spend hours reading self-help books, taking notes, then applying them into my life. Eventually, I started to see self-improvements in all aspects of my life, where I would apply to academics, athletics, and personal life. Now I advocate for youth mental health by running a youth-led mental health organization.

Steven Greene – He/Him

Steven Greene was born in Sacramento and has spent the majority of his life in Rancho Cordova. When he’s not in school, Steven plays competitive soccer, basketball, and runs track. In his spare time, Steven volunteers at the Sacramento Food Bank, bakes homemade dog treats for his local animal shelter, is an avid Playstation gamer, and enjoys hanging out with his friends.

While he has been fortunate to have never personally dealt with homelessness, food insecurity, foster care, or the other critical societal issues and crises that the Youth Commission seeks to provide support services for, Steven joined the Youth Advisory Board to try and be a positive change agent for those that are, especially youth.

Divya Mamidi – She/Her

I am currently a junior in high school. I have lived in Oceanside, New York and I currently reside in Sacramento, California. As someone who is deeply dedicated to fighting child poverty, CCY fits right in with my vision. In addition, I lead a student-run nonprofit organization dedicated to providing donated pairs of shoes to individuals from low-income communities internationally to launch their own small businesses. In college, I wish to study economics and sociology to further examine the factors that yield income inequality. I am currently in the process of studying behavioral finance and how it produces homelessness. As an individual who was lucky enough to have grown up in an affluent environment, I believe it is my duty to use my privilege to help other youths thrive despite their barriers.

Ted Ngatia – He/Him + They/Them

I’m originally from Nairobi, Kenya and came to Los Angeles in January 2017 to study filmmaking. My parents would pay my rent as I studied and worked on getting a job, but when I came out to my dad, who has very violent homophobic beliefs, I had to stop communicating with my mum and dad for safety reasons and I quickly became homeless. Homelessness can be beyond horrifying which is why no matter who I meet that might have dealt with it at some point, I will willingly and happily share what helped me survive and begin the journey of healing.

Chezia Tarleton – She/Her

I was born in Sacramento, California and also spent ten years relocated on the East Coast. I graduated from the University of Colorado, Denver in 2020 with a B.A. in Sociology and I am pursuing both a LMFT and LPCC. I am a Peer advocate for CalVoices within the Sacramento area, Youth Board Member for CMHACY, public speaker for mental health and youth representation, NAMI presenter, and a volunteer for the Sacramento LGBT Center. I love outdoor activities, watching horror movies, and crafting when I am not researching more into the field of mental health. I have dove into the field of mental health to empower and encourage other POC while fighting against stigma.

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