At school, students can connect with friends, find scholastic resources, and get away from stressors at home. With schools shuttered since last spring, the United Way’s Young Civic Leaders Program (YCLP) became an even more critical source of support for many students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

In partnership with Communities in Schools Los Angeles through a generous donation from AIG, YCLP provided financial assistance to the families of students in addition to emotional support for students as they met the challenges of COVID-19. 

Helping families with financial assistance

YCLP works directly with LAUSD students as a critical resource for future community leaders, and offered students’ families financial support so they could meet students’ basic needs and help them study and thrive.

Recent LAUSD graduate Aimee lives in a 6 person household. COVID-19 took her grandfather’s life. Her mother, a small business owner, and her father, a general contractor, have had a hard time maintaining a consistent income.

“Financial assistance from United Way helped my family and me. My grandfather passed away, and both my parents were unemployed. The money was used for his funeral, and I am beyond grateful for that,” Aimee stated. “My mother cried tears of joy, because we really needed this money.”

Paulina is another recent LAUSD graduate. She lives in a compact apartment where she shares a room with her parents and her brother. Her small home felt even smaller when the quarantine began and she had to share her home with other family members. 

“I live in a two-bedroom apartment with ten people,” said Paulina. “School was difficult because of all the noises coming from different rooms, and the fact that I didn’t have my own space made it even harder.” 

The pandemic cost Paulina’s family her father’s job. With support through United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Paulina’s family could pay for necessities from food to school supplies.

“When the whole pandemic and quarantine started, I was a senior in high school. I was three months away from graduating, and when the time came for me to pick a school, my father had been laid off from his job,” Paulina said. “Fortunately, UCLA gave me a great financial aid package that was suitable for my family’s financial status. Due to virtual schooling, I had to obtain technology that was suitable for my learning experience. United Way sent me money to buy a laptop and wireless headphones to enhance my learning environment and I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

Paulina goes on to say that her parents are muy agradecidos—very grateful. “This act of kindness proves that there is still hope in the world where communities and humankind combine as one to help one another. My family is eternally grateful to receive these resources.”

Providing emotional support for students

Paulina acknowledged how helpful the support from YCLP staff and her fellow students was. Her family’s “minds were elsewhere, worrying about financial and health needs.” She felt that YCLP provided her a safe environment where she could share and speak on issues that are dear to her without the feeling of being ignored or criticized.

“I was fortunate enough to work and communicate with an intelligent and resourceful group of teens who all share similar interests,” Paulina said.

 Aimee also credits workshops at YCLP as a critical source of support. 

“Attending the mental health workshop, the resume building workshop and the college essay workshop allowed me to gain valuable skills,” she remarked.

Aimee still receives check-ins from her case manager, Xochitl. 

“We zoom and talk about our college experiences. She informs me about resources I can take advantage of,” Aimee said. “Because of her, I was able to obtain a paid summer internship with LAUSD. I used the money to pay for my mom’s medical bill. She also checks in on me once in a while to see how my family and I are doing.”

Young Change Makers Looking Forward

YCLP supports low-income students while teaching the students how to move forward in life knowing they deserve to take space, and how to make impactful changes in their communities. When students leave LAUSD, they are still Young Civic Leaders.

“I came into the program, not knowing much about the politics behind education,” Aimee mentioned. “I am now passionate about educational reform and making a change in my community.”

Paulina was happy to find a group of students she could relate to that also came from low-income communities. 

“There was a meeting we had where we discussed the issues in the education system,” Paulina recalled. “Each group made a poster about the problems we think are important. And as a whole, voted on which should be mentioned at a forum.”

Aimee and Paulina both started college this fall.

“I can’t wait to live on campus and go to class, meet new people, network, and grow as a person, whether that is getting to know myself better or learning more about my environment,” Aimee said.

“Even though this is not the transition from high school to college I was expecting, I’m ready to start this next chapter of my life with my head up,” Paulina said.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles is very happy to report that all of these students are doing well and we are proud to be a part of their ascendance into community leaders wherever they go.