Conspiring for Change for the Next Generation of Leaders

Bread and Roses 2016

During their first meeting of Leading from Within’s Emerging Leaders program, Patricia Solorio, Executive Director of Central Coast Future Leaders, Inc. (CCFL), and Eder Gaona-Macedo, Executive Director of Future Leaders of America, Inc. (FLA), joked that Ken Saxon, Founder and President of Leading from Within, had conspired for their mutual participation. As they talked, they not only got reacquainted – Solorio fondly reminisced on when Gaona-Macedo was a youth participant in the programs that they are now leading. As leaders in their work, their conversation quickly moved to practical matter of challenges facing their two organizations. What started as a simple chat at a Leading From Within program has evolved into the merging of two of the largest youth-led leadership development programs for low-income and Latino youth in Santa Barbara County.

“Through Emerging Leaders, Eder and I not only learned that it is important for nonprofits to support each other, but we were also able to learn from each other,” said Solorio. “We identified our mutual goals, shared our challenges and validated each other’s concerns, which built trust and mutual understanding that is leading to the reintegration of CCFL into FLA.”

CCFL began in 1992 in Santa Maria as a local, youth-led organization that supports the development of youth and empowers them to have a voice in their community. In 1999, CCFL merged for the first time with FLA, which was founded in 1982 as a grassroots response to concerns about high-risk behaviors of Latino youth in Oxnard and Santa Barbara. However, in 2012, CCFL split from FLA because local Santa Maria community members felt that the interests of northern Santa Barbara County were not being fairly represented. Now, thanks to the collaboration and hard work of Solorio and Gaona-Macedo, the two organizations will merge once again, with a renewed emphasis on addressing the needs of northern Santa Barbara County.

“As we get closer to merging, we have solidified an engaged board that represents Santa Maria and our community,” said Solorio. “Eder has come to meet with the student council and they had a lot of questions, but also had open minds and I think this whole process will be a great learning opportunity for everyone.”

As the two organizations continue to soldify their merge this September, they are excited about the future possibilities for empowering youth to advocate for their voice in the community. Already, both programs provide conferences, camps and trainings to help youth improve their public speaking skills, learn how to facilitate meetings and value themselves and others in a way that empowers them to make a positive difference. In 2016, the Santa Barbara Foundation provided FLA with an Invest in Youth grant award and Capital Improvement grant award to continue to expand this programming to include a renewed emphasis on teaching advocacy and organizing.

“Our Oxnard program has an advocacy component that is helping students obtain resources in their high schools that will help them get into college,” said Gaona-Macedo. “I would love to bring more advocacy and organizing programming to Santa Maria to help the youth have more of a voice in the policies of their city and schools. Now more than ever, youth need to be active in shaping solutions to real problems including the end of DACA for undocumented youth and Education Equity. I am excited about our collaboration with Santa Maria because it will help students across the county learn from each other and lead change in the issues that they care about most, thus shaping the next generation of leaders.”

For more information about the Santa Barbara Foundation’s support for youth development organizations, please contact Rubayi Estes at restes@sbfoundation.org.

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