CA FWD is welcoming 13 new leaders to our Young Leaders Advisory Council (YLAC) for 2023-2024.
This is YLAC’s fourth cohort and this year the young leaders plan to increase their voice and participation in CA FWD’s policy agenda. Using the 2023 CA FWD Roadmap to Shared Prosperity, they aim to increase youth engagement by interacting with policymakers around the issues of housing, climate, environment and workforce development, while also increasing and facilitating engagement in regional economic development efforts.
“In welcoming a fourth cohort we hope to build on this progress and continue to connect passionate and capable young leaders with opportunities to take part in regional and policy stewardship efforts that require crucial youth input,” said 2023 YLAC Co-Chair Valerie Johnson
YLAC is a diverse group of Californians ages 17-24 who are committed to intergenerational collaboration in engaging underrepresented communities with the policy-making process through personal narratives and data-based recommendations.
Welcome new YLAC members!
Ciara Thrower joins the Youth Leaders Advisory Council as an Inland Empire native and first-generation college graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Environmental Studies. She is a self proclaimed climate optimist who works to understand how strategic partnerships and community engagement can be utilized to address the climate crisis. Currently, Ciara works as an Advocacy and Outreach Associate at Breathe Southern California, a non-profit that champions clean air and healthy lungs.
Ciara also serves as a UC Davis Environmental Justice Leader where she works with like-minded individuals from across the country to develop Environmental Justice projects and develop a network of Environmental Justice professionals.
When she isn’t working, you can find Ciara kickboxing, hiking, or watching three-hour true crime documentaries on Youtube.
Navreet Hundal: Raised in California’s Central Valley, Navreet’s firsthand experiences taught her the importance of centering community voices in regional decision making, in order to create equitable change. Following her interest in public policy, she pursued her education at the University of California, Davis studying Political Science.
With a broad academic focus, Navreet’s undergraduate career focused on pursuing opportunities which aligned with her passions for climate action, regional development, and policy implementation. She served as intern for California Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry’s office where she provided direct constituency support, a Bradshaw Scholar with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, an intern with CivicWell supporting CivicSpark operations, and Chairperson for the ASUCD Academic Affairs Commission where she led student advocacy efforts during remote learning, and more.
Currently, Navreet is a Project Associate at Valley Vision, a nonprofit organization supporting the Greater Sacramento region and member organization of California Forward’s California Stewardship Network. At Valley Vision, Navreet supports the Broadband and Digital Equity impact area, connecting the region through providing support for local governments on strategic planning and broadband infrastructure development, along with connecting community organizations to digital literacy skills and opportunities.
Alexander Edgar is a rising junior at University of California, Berkeley studying Political Behavior with minors in Public Policy and Education. He is interested in developing policy solutions to major social problems, aiming to create a democracy and education systems that are more responsive to the will and needs of the public.
Alex has interned with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, and California Common Cause. On campus, he is the External Affairs Vice President of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) and the Civic Engagement Director for the University of California Student Association (UCSA). In recognition of his civic work, Alex was the 2023 recipient of the John Lewis Youth Leadership Award by the California Secretary of State Shirley Weber. Through his various roles, Alex has become a strong student voice in the youth vote space, being published in Forbes, featured in a CBS News Bay Area segment, and speaking about voting rights and civic education across the country.
Grace Ochs recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Environmental Studies and Public Policy. Grace is originally from the Central Valley, where she first became interested in climate policy from seeing first hand the negative impacts of climate change on her community. Formerly, Grace led educational programming and outreach at the Berkeley Student Food Collective, a nonprofit organization working to provide local, sustainable, and culturally appropriate food to the Berkeley community. She has also worked in corporate sustainability at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and supported environmental policy research at the American Association of Port Authorities. Today, she is the Project and Communications Coordinator at the nonprofit Next 10 where she works to support the development of research on climate related issues in California.
Fiona Lu is a first-year student at University of California, Los Angeles studying Public Affairs and Labor Studies, and her hometown is in Orange County.
She has been involved in advocacy for three years now, and she’s especially interested in the intersections of education, poverty, race and ethnicity, and social welfare. She serves in a variety of youth-led organizations that work primarily on bringing equitable solutions through policy changes and grassroots activism. Some policy initiatives she’s passionate about include building strong public schools, attending to the needs of impoverished women, youth, and families, expanding mentorship services, and promoting higher education accessibility.
She hopes to pursue a career that explores the nonprofit sector, government, teaching, and academia. In her free time, she loves hanging out with her little brother, going on hikes, and drinking matcha. She’s excited to be on CA FWD’s YLAC to learn more from other young advocates and adult mentors about how we can achieve justice for all communities in California.
Mariah Bickham is a leader who wants to improve equity in the lives of people who live in Northern California. Growing up in Lake County, Mariah understands the struggles and inequalities that many communities face. This fueled her drive for change and drew her into getting my bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Sacramento State University. After graduation Mariah took a gap year where she held two jobs, one at the California State Assembly and one at a nonprofit, the Arc of California. Both jobs allowed her to gain the necessary skills and confidence to join the Executive Fellowship Program. This fellowship expanded her opportunities and knowledge of how to be a champion for her community. Mariah’s mission is to improve and elevate communities in Northern California through education, income and resource equality. Her experiences and leadership style is to lead with compassion and empathy. Mariah hopes that through the Young Leaders Advisory Council she will be able to help communities like mine.
Ignasio Castillo (he/him/his) is a first-generation Latinx college student pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Criminal Justice from California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB). Since 2020, Ignasio has served in various student government positions at CSUB Associated Students Incorporated (ASI), such as Vice President of Legislative Affairs in 2020 and 2022 and Vice President of University Affairs in 2021. He also had the pleasure of serving as the Central Civic Engagement Officer in 2022 and as the Social Justice and Equity Officer in 2021 with the California State Student Association.
During his tenure in these positions, Castillo has led strong lobby efforts by leading a team of student lobbyists to advocate for student constituents on higher education matters at the California Higher Education Student Summit. He also advocated with his state legislators towards securing $80 million for CSUB’s Energy Innovation Center and helped create his campus’ first-ever Pride Flag rising in its 50+ year history.
Currently, Castillo serves as Executive Vice President for CSUB ASI and is also a Bakerfield City Hall Fellow under the Bakersfield Police Department where he works under the Office of Performance and Analysis which oversees the Department’s work on public and community transparency and data analysis.
Sophia Quach currently works in the California State Legislature developing policy and propelling legislation to help uplift marginalized communities and Californians. She has extensive international and domestic experience working on policymaking, global relations, and social impact. Sophia’s AAPI background as a Vietnamese American shaped her worldview; much of what drives her is her passion to give back to her community and loved ones by making their stories known and breaking intergenerational boundaries. Outside of her work at the Capitol, she works as an independent artist, practices meditation and Pilates, and likes to innovate cherished AAPI recipes with a sustainable, plant-based twist. Sophia holds a Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy and Government from CSU Sacramento and a bachelor’s degree in International Peace and Conflict from University of California, Berkeley.
Christian Camaisa: Growing up in San Diego and having recently graduated from Torrey Pines High School, Christian plans to enter Colgate University in the fall of 2024 with concentrations in economics, computer science, and political science. Throughout his high school career, his commitment to public service has grown. Christian has led initiatives at local nonprofits that address discrepancies in healthcare, education, and voter turnout within San Diego’s AANHPI communities. In addition, he interned at a company focused on improving accessibility in clinical trials and also with a local criminal defense attorney, experiences that allowed him to witness the impacts of public policy on California’s health and justice systems.
Currently, Christian is serving as an intern in the office of Congressman Scott Peters, representing his home district—California’s 50th. In tandem with his role in YLAC, Christian seeks to broaden his understanding of California’s policy issues and contribute to tangible solutions for constituents. In his free time, Christian is likely snowboarding, surfing, or at the gym.
Akunna Chilaka is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara. She majored in Political Science and History of Public Policy & Law. As an undergraduate, Akunna received academic achievements such as Dean’s Academic Honors, the History Undergraduate Research Grant, the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) Grant, the National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS) award, and the A. Russell Buchanan Award. Akunna aspires to have a policy career advancing public health policy and social equity, and will begin her master’s degree in Public Policy at University of California, Irvine this fall.
Tehreem Khan is a first-generation Pakistani college student who was born and raised in Stockton, California. Growing up, she was deeply influenced by her mother who instilled the value of education and the importance of equal access to learning opportunities. Tehreem’s passion lies in equipping young people with the necessary tools and resources to create positive change in their communities. Through her educational journey and experiences in Stockton, Tehreem understands the challenges and barriers young people face which has taught her to lead with empathy.
Tehreem believes that the collective power of youth is more important than ever and trusts in their ability to shape a better future. She is the co-founder and president of a nonprofit called Stockton Stands that focuses on youth empowerment. Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the University of the Pacific, Tehreem is also the proud owner of a small business specializing in traditional henna artistry from her cultural background. In her free time, she loves to paint, read, and spend time with her family.
Owen Knapper Jr. is a University of California, Berkeley student, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with the hopes of minoring in Ethnic Studies. He is originally from Los Angeles, California but spent his adolescent years in Rialto, California.
Owen’s involvement in his community throughout high school sparked his interest in pursuing a political science degree, from volunteering on Mayoral Deborah Robertson’s 2020 campaign to working as a public policy intern alongside myriad nonprofit organizations giving back to communities on a local, national, and global scale. Owen has discovered a passion for advocating for individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, races, and ethnicities, and he has enjoyed it every step of the way.
In the summer of 2022, Owen had the incredible opportunity to work alongside Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) and the Fortune School of Education as a public policy intern through the BLU Educational Foundation. On Bill AB-2774, he advocated for African American students in K-12 to receive more funding as they were one of the lowest-performing subgroups, with 67% failing to meet English Language Arts Standards and another 79% failing to meet Math Standards. From this experience, Owen analyzed how important it was to study and understand the process of legislation and the law. He witnessed how understanding the law and its policy could be utilized to execute change that can develop an intersectional democracy incorporating others for the greater good.
As Owen pursues his undergraduate studies, he plans to expand his understanding and knowledge of social concerns, social movements, youth advocacy, racial inequality, and democracy, as well as create lifelong relationships and remain encouraged to make a difference in communities.
Alex Niles recently graduated from University of California, Santa Barbara, where he earned an Interdisciplinary Studies degree with emphasis in Communications, Sociology, and History. While there, he completed research projects assessing the environmental justice impacts of New York City’s Green New Deal legislation and exploring the impact of water politics on California suburban development.
As a student, Alex served as the president of the UC Student Association, which represents all 230,000+ UC undergraduates. He worked on issues including funding for disabled student services and undocumented student programs, Cal Grant reform, and Pell Grant expansion. At YLAC, Alex will work to advance policy related to environmental justice, public education, and housing.