Mobilization and Empowerment: Looking at Youth's Power of Change- Making in the Face of Tragedy

Robert Lee of CAHC describes the actions taken by student survivors in the aftermath of the February 14th Florida school shooting.

Today, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., return to school.

I do not want to focus on the tragedy that occurred February 14th, nor do I really want to get into the political debate of gun control. What I want to do is bring to your attention the power of youth. Like the mythic phoenix that rises from the ashes, youth reacting to a disaster can do amazing things. Youth are widely underestimated, deemed as not “experienced enough” “educated enough” or “articulate enough” to make ‘adult’ decisions. That is not the story of the student survivors of the Florida school shooting.

The tragedy that occurred on February 14th sparked a flame within the surviving students of Stoneman Douglas High, the school where the tragedy occurred.  They channeled their sadness, anger, and frustration into political activism. Just hours after the tragedy, students turned to social media to advocate for more gun control. They had started the #NeverAgain movement. They initially spread their message through Twitter using the main hashtag #NeverAgain and supporting hashtags of #BanAssaultWeapons and #GunControlNow.  They implored other youth throughout the country to get involved in the cause, using the hashtags #StudentsStandUp and #StudentsWalkOut. The response was positive, and the flame spread, the youth of America unified their voice.

But they didn’t stop there. With the flame raging into a fire, the students sought to confront law-makers face-to-face about Florida’s gun control policies. On Tuesday, February 20th, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mobilized and traveled to Florida’s state capitol in Tallahassee. They marched to the capitol building, rallied on the capitol steps, and spoke with their legislators. They called on all representatives to move House Bill 219 (assault weapons ban) from committees to the House Floor for “questions, debate, and a vote.”  They spoke eloquently. They spoke passionately. They spoke with true conviction. But like the second act in every play, the outcome was bleak. The call was rejected, the ban would have to wait until after the next regular session.

However, the movement did not stop; I repeat, the movement did not stop. Like any powerful fires, their fire didn’t go out, but rather it grew. It grew into a bonfire. Students throughout America, from coast to coast, from California to Florida, are protesting Florida’s rejection by organizing school walk-outs. This unified action has gotten the nation’s attention, shining a bright light on the inspiring drive and motivation propelling today’s youth forward.

Currently, youth survivors and adult allies are organizing a rally, appropriately named, “March For Our Lives,” scheduled to take place on March 24th, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (The Twitter hashtag, #MarchForOurLives showcases their plans.) They are reaching out far and wide, even promoting the march on CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The rally is expected to have “sister marches” in other major cities throughout the country. I feel that as a member of the public health community and facilitator of youth leadership, it is my responsibility to stand with them. (If you are an American Public Health Association- APHA- member like myself, go to the APHA website to find APHA statements on gun violence and how to support youth activism.)

I, for one, will be watching, marching, supporting, and applauding the courage these young people have. I hope they continue to burn bright and soar on the wings of the phoenix.

Young Mothers Research (YMR) Present at the 8th Annual California Breastfeeding Coalition Summit

The California Adolescent Health Collaborative (CAHC) was accepted to present at the 8th annual California Breastfeeding Coalition Summit! This event took place in San Diego on January 24th and 25th and at the event, YMR representatives showcased the “Young Mothers’ Infant Feeding Study” and the accomplishments of the project. CAHC presented the findings from the study on factors impacting breastfeeding among young mothers. 

CAHC would like to thank Ruth Konoff and Tina Benitez for taking the time to present the YMR project findings at the conference that week and for agreeing to present them again at the upcoming International Lactation Consultant Association. The International Lactation Consultant Association likewise accepted the YMR project abstract, noting it “as one of the top-scoring research abstracts, selected for an Oral Research Presentation”. The conference, “TOGETHER: Changing YOUR Community and the World,” will be held July 18th through the 21st, this year at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. The presentations will explore the "Social and Structural Factors that Impact Young Mothers’ Infant Feeding Behaviors: Community-Based Participatory Research with Diverse Young Mothers and Providers."

Please go to our website to learn more about our project:

Ruth and Tina Presenting Poster.jpg

Pictured are our Advisory Board Members Ruth Konoff (left) and Tina Benitez (Right) getting ready to present at the 8th Annual California Breastfeeding Coalition Summit!

Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth ( MISSEY)

Alison Chopel of CAHC describes her experience working with nonprofit program, Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY).


Last month I was grateful to celebrate with MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth), their Interim Executive Director Dr. Aisha Mays, their Senior Advisor Holly Joshi, their staff and some of their clients, not once but twice! First, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of this amazing and unique organization. And what a wonderful time to celebrate, as they’ve recently moved into a lovely Victorian home right next to Oakland’s homeless youth shelter aptly named the Dream Catcher, and at the same time realized a long-time dream of opening an on-site health clinic, also perfectly named the Dream Clinic, a satellite of Roots Oakland. As I plot along with MISSSEY’s leadership to continue our work in partnership, I am so encouraged by their ballooning prevention work. The next celebration was of the beautiful images and narratives created by MISSSEY clients as part of the Photovoice project that CAHC supported and Stephannie Ratcliff led, along with her fabulous mentors Dr. Mays and Dr. Coco Auerswald, entitled Showing Love through the Looking Glass.

And then, as so often happens when working in adolescent health, I think back to my own adolescence and how much I and my peers could have used such programming. Back then I wrote to stay sane and to stay connected to and aware of what was happening in my life. After these celebrations, I went back to those excerpts, thinking that I was exactly the profile of “at-risk youth” that MISSSEY is speaking to when they do their prevention work. While I am a survivor of many traumas, fortunately I am not a survivor of commercial sex trafficking. But as I read back to my adventures and misadventures in youth, it becomes painfully clear how close I was to becoming a victim. Here is a snippet from my journal- at the time a 15-year-old me was hitchhiking to California with two acquaintances because all my homeless crew had been arrested.

On our first morning in Elko, Nevada (after a weird night), we had two major arguments.  Ken thought we needed the money that Dahlia could get from sleeping with a hick.  I thought we didn't need to let her degrade herself, or if she was gonna do it, it shouldn't be with that guy.  He was offering twenty dollars. Twenty fucking dollars! (SHE WASN’T EVEN A PROSTITUTE.) A businessman had offered her four hundred just earlier that morning in the laundromat.  In the end, Dahlia listened to Ken, presumably because of her attachment to him.  Inside I was furious that she would do this for the guy who couldn’t even decide whether she was just his fuck-buddy or his steady girl.  It nauseated me to see her tricked by the patriarchy into being a commodity.  It didn’t even occur to Ken or I in the middle of our boiling argument how fucked up it was that we were arguing about what SHE would do, as if we had control over her.  I knew that he thought he did, and I felt it my duty as a fellow woman to speak up for what I assumed would be better for her dignity and her body.

            So, contrary to pattern, when Ken and I left the room together to give Dahlia and her John time to do business, we got along at first.  We had to stick together because whenever I went somewhere alone in that town I was mistaken for a prostitute (but I was actually a virgin). True to our history, we began arguing again. I thought we should take off when she was done, we were only ten miles from Reno, and we’d only ever agreed on one thing, which was that I would travel with LaRoux and Jack the rest of the way once we met up with them in Reno. Neither of us could wait to be separated. Of course, he got his way; we stayed yet another night, and blew most of Dahlia’s hard earned twenty.

The next morning we got off to an early start, at hitching and at sparring.  He thought we should wait on the on-ramp, and I knew we should wait a few yards down the line. He was stupid as well as boorish. He figured if we waited at the on-ramp then more cars would pass by and consider giving us a ride.  I was sure our chances would be greater if we were a ways up the highway, because both the cars coming off the on-ramp onto the road and the ones already on the interstate would come by.  Sure enough, when we did it my way, a truck stopped.  As they got on, he informed me that I wasn’t to climb up.  I ignored him and started walking towards the truck when he said that if I got on they wouldn’t.  What was I supposed to do? He wouldn’t even tell me where we were meant to meet Jack and LaRoux, or where the Rainbow Gathering was.  So I was stranded.  He told me to head to the town's pigpen where I'd get a free bus ticket home. I was stunned- as much as we argued, he never hinted that he was planning to leave me on my own.  And in 10 short miles, we’d find Jack and LaRoux and he would’ve been rid of me for good.  I guess he was just so mad that I was obviously right he could no longer take the threat to his, what, masculinity?  He wore a skirt to front a surpassing comfort with his feminine side, but then a younger girl being right was just too much.

I went and sat under the overpass, low on the slanted concrete slab, listening to cars speed over my head.  When Ken had informed me that he was now ditching me in the middle of Nevada, he spat out this disclaimer: “…and remember, it’s not my fault if someone rapes you.”  Said the asshole.  I waited in the shade among cement pillars for a brilliant idea to bless me and save me from this situation gone bad.  Instead of the idea came a sweaty old truck with a sweaty chubby man and a sweaty wrinkly woman.  I told him I was just resting and that I was on my way to the police station (a place I despised in any town), because I had been told that they were obligated to buy a bus ticket for anyone that was stuck in their state, as I now was.  I had not volunteered all this information, but he had grilled me and I felt having the cop shop for my destination lent me some safety.  Fuming and tearing over being ditched off in a desert, I took that chance when this persistent man asked me if I wanted a ride to the pig-pen.  He insisted upon waiting for me to see if they helped me out.  When they sent me elsewhere, he offered me a ride to K.A.R.E., where they might be able to lend a Karing hand.  Instead of any real help, they gave me a bag of stale glazed doughnuts and a half pint of warm orange Koolaid.  So, it was the sweaty truck or back to the guy at the hotel.  The guy at the hotel had told me the only reason he’d offered to let us sleep in his warm room was because he thought he’d get laid, since I didn’t have a boyfriend with me.  When I refused he got very angry, and slammed his Burger King dinner into the trashcan.  Then he offered to pay me, “…after all, prostitution is legal in Elko.”  Said the asshole.  No, I concluded, I don’t think I’ll go back there alone.

My reality was so different, because of the time, the geography, from that of MISSSEY’s clients, but at the same time it is too similar to what many of them experience. When re-reading this I am ashamed of the shame that I imbued the word PROSTITUTE with, but I am also so encouraged that it is now much more well-known that CHILDREN CANNOT BE PROSTITUTES. I support MISSSEY both for those youth who, like me, are so close but can avoid becoming commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC), and for those who do get exploited but are so much more than their trauma, as was demonstrated by the beautiful art and powerful words that touched me at the December exhibit opening of Showing Love Through the Looking Glass. If you get a chance, please go to Athen B Gallery to see the exhibit- you will be inspired and awed!

LGBTQ Student Resource Guide

A recent resource was shared with the California Adolescent Health Collaborative.  We encourage any and all youth your youth-influencers to take a look at

The LGBTQ community faces many challenges. Attending college can add additional stressors leading to anxiety and depression. For these reasons, it is essential for those that self-identify as a sexual or gender minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, intersex, transgender, agender/gender non-binary, two-spirited, queer or questioning) choose a college with trained staff and safe spaces.

"The Best Colleges" website link above lists the following as criteria for an LGBTQ-equipped college:

  • LGBTQ student organizations
  • Inclusion statements/anti-discrimination policies that include LGBTQ students
  • LGBTQ resource centers
  • Gender-neutral restrooms and housing

The website provides advice on admission essays, finding an LGBTQ friendly campus, support resources outside of the college campus, and scholarship opportunities specific to the LGBTQ community.

This is still a controversial topic that has made leaps and bounds in the past decade in terms of public understanding and support.

Please feel free to share and visit the above resource with those you feel would most benefit.

H-REP at the Peace for Families March

Lindsey Salcido, CAHC’s Central Valley Program Coordinator for the Healthy Relationships and Economic Pathways (H-REP) Program, attended the Peace for Families March hosted by one of CAHC’s H-REP partners, Valley Crisis Center, on October 26, 2017. Read about Lindsey’s wonderful experience below!


Excited for the event to began, I arrived at the Los Banos Community Center 30 minutes before the start time. To prepare our H-REP booth for the festivities, I carefully draped the H-REP table in a white tablecloth and adorned it with our H-REP banner and logo décor. The table was filled with H-REP water bottles, pens, notepads, and coloring pages—a fun activity for any kids that might visit our booth!

All event participants were instructed by the DJ to walk outside of the event center where we were greeted by an inspiring sight: the sidewalk was lined with over 150 people walking towards the Community Center, holding signs and chanting, “There’s no excuse for domestic abuse, stop the violence!” Those walking stopped at the doors of the Community Center. A few gathered released purple balloons in honor of those freed from domestic violence.

Once the walk was finished, those attending the event entered the Community Center to make their way around to the various booths set up. Valley Crisis Center had a table at the front of the venue full of large baskets brimming with raffle prizes. One special guest speaker, herself a survivor of domestic abuse, shared her testimony of how she had been involved in a violent relationship where she lacked the freedom to even use the restroom on her own. She went on to share how our partner organization, Valley Crisis Center, helped her free herself from the domestic violence.

Monica Rocha, the tech instructor at Merced County Office of Education, joined me at the H-REP booth where we asked those passing by to describe what a healthy relationship looks like to them. Many of the youth shouted out things like “Trust!” and “Loyalty!” Other common answers included “having a job” and “getting along.” Monica shared with the youth that healthy relationships are not just between spouses or romatic partners, but also with our siblings, parents, and coworkers. One younger boy attending had a broken arm. I asked him how he had broken his arm and he shared that he had gotten into a fight with his brother. After speaking with us further, he confirmed that he needs help with a healthy relationship with his brother.

Much to my delight, children and adults both gathered to color the H-REP logo and ask questions about the program. After their questions were answered, they filled their reusable bags provided by Valley Crisis Center with H-REP pens and water bottles. The event was an amazing opportunity to spread the good news about H-REP and mingle with the Los Banos community. The turnout was great and I look forward to bringing H-REP back to Los Banos!