STOCKTON, CA - Today, the San Joaquin County District Attorney's office was recognized for its leadership in facilitating the Summer Youth Leadership Academy. The EEO and Diversity Award is presented annually by the San Joaquin County Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) to a county unit or department that has demonstrated a commitment to promoting, embracing, enhancing and advancing the spirit of diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity within the County.
The San Joaquin County Youth Leadership Academy is a dynamic, interactive, intensive five-week summer program designed to empower and inspire the next generation of leaders for justice in San Joaquin County. Leadership skills are developed through active participation in classroom instruction, mentorship opportunities, awareness training, and engagement in community service. The vision of the San Joaquin County Youth Leadership Academy is to motivate and inspire young adults to become thoughtful, ethical, service-oriented leaders in San Joaquin County (and the world). The program also strives to equip the next generation of San Joaquin County leaders with the skills to make a difference in our community through awareness, participation, and leadership.
"SJC Youth Leaders are motivated and inspired to make our community safer, healthier, and wiser," according to District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar. In a message to the 2018 cohort, she said, "We are excited to work with you and advance your learning opportunities in the area of the criminal justice system. In San Joaquin County, we continuously strive to always do the right thing; we strive to ensure justice for all and to behave in a professional and ethical manner at all times. Our goal during your journey is to allow you to see first-hand the importance of our Democracy at work and to ensure justice is fair and protects all who enter the Halls of Justice. Your time here will also afford you crucial life-skill knowledge that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. This includes the opportunity to think outside the box and to work with others collaboratively to find alternative solutions. As members of the office, you are tasked with being guardians of the Constitution and will work to build trust and transparency in the Community we serve." DA Verber Salazar has mentored students since the program began.
For more than 17 years, the Youth Leadership Academy has operated as a summer outreach program for county high school students. This program is coordinated by the Office of San Joaquin County District Attorney, the San Joaquin County Superior Court, and a long list of local and county agencies and leaders who volunteer their time and talent to mentor and inspire youth to become public servants.
County leaders, including the famed pathologist, Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) take time to engage directly with the students through hands-on workshops, lectures, and field trips. For years, Dr. Omalu has come to speak with students about self-esteem and the importance education no matter what their backgrounds are. Students also have the opportunity to engage with inmates at Folsom and Chowchilla State Prisons via live feed. Inmates tell their stories and warn the students about consequences to their actions. This year some of the students traveled to Folsom State Prison and met with these inmates in person. Student evaluations show that this is one of the favorite presentations of the program and realize they would have never experienced this opportunity if it were not for the program in place.
In 2018, the program theme and student projects sought to address the widespread issue of homelessness in the County. Students were able to tour the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless and this was an eye opening and humbling experience to where the students expressed a desire to help and assist in any way they can. The guest speaker was a homeless woman living on the streets and explained her day-to-day survival. It was obvious this woman needed housing, clothing and food but when asked by the students what they could do for her, she simply said, "say hello and give me a smile."
The Youth Leadership Academy reaches students across every demographic, truly representing our county. The program itself is a county activity comprised of high school students from all ethnic and academic backgrounds. Because of San Joaquin County's growing diversity, our applicants have become increasingly diverse each year. According to Terry Costa, a retired SJC Superior Court Senior Judicial Secretary, who returns each year as a volunteer program coordinator, "This program has made a difference in the lives of every student: whether an honor roll student or juvenile offender, we have made it a point to admit students who show promise and potential, regardless of their academic and financial background." Terry has coordinated the program since its inception and has returned every year to help keep the program running through the generous support of volunteers and joint leadership with Judge Richard Vlavianos of San Joaquin County Collaborative Court. This year, the program was supported by UC Davis Law Student Ariana Ghavami, and a number of San Joaquin County District Attorney law clerks, interns, and staff.
"To make this program a success, county staff members representing an array of agencies and community-based programs have the rare opportunity to come together each year and contribute information and resources to enhance the student learning experience," explained Teri Booth, the Administrative Supervisor who nominated the program for the award.
Judge Vlavianos, who started the program with Justice William J. Murray, have kept in touch with generations of graduates. When the students return to school following the program it becomes a life-changing experience and they implement what they have learned from the program into their everyday lives. What they have learned from the program is the exposure to the Criminal Justice System from all aspects; these students share this experience with their teachers, counselors, and fellow students. There is constant feedback from the graduating students on how this program has enhanced their lives and attitudes, many of the students have asked if they can repeat the program next year. A high percentage of the graduates from the program have gone on to become attorneys who specialize in immigration law, criminal and civil law as prosecutors and defense attorneys, probation officers, social workers, law enforcement. The graduates attribute their career path to the program.
Parents have expressed the change in their child during and after the program in a positive way. Some students were considered "at risk" and the program changed their path. This program gives the students a competitive advantage for acceptance into colleges, enhances their resume and employment opportunities.
To learn more about the Summer Youth Leadership Academy, please visit our website.