By Grace Thwin, Youth Advocate for Mentoring, MENTOR National and PACA Founder
As COVID-19 progressed, youth in our country noticeably felt more powerless among the economic and health disparities impacting their communities. On top of that, as xenophobic, anti-black, and other racial and ethnic justice issues rose to light, many young people saw a spark of awareness in themselves. Instagram pages within our communities became filled with posts, calls to action, and education on various social justice issues as youth banded together in a sort of awakening. Youth were talking about the crisis in Yemen, the way the government responded to the pandemic, anti-mask acts, Black Lives Matter, and even sharing their personal sexual assault experiences to foster a safer environment for survivors via social media.
Founded by teen philanthropists at the Youth Empowerment Fund of the Urban Services YMCA, PACA (Provide Advocacy and Care to All) was born to serve the Bay Area in response to the fiery will of youth to learn and make change for the better. For PACA Founder Grace Thwin, her passion in empowering youth is rooted in her gratitude for all of her up lifters (MENTOR through its Youth Advocates for Mentoring Program, being a significant one) who fueled her confidence, leadership, and character. Erika Morris, PACA Co-Founder, has the passion to uplift and connect the black students of San Francisco through PACA. This fuels her love for leadership, unification, and her culture. PACA Administrative Director Ryan Kim likes being involved in something so unique and has a deep love for cookies. The PACA leadership team is a testament to youth initiative to make change for the better.
PACA aims to provide the space, resources, and guidance for those youth impassioned by today’s issues to make real, effective change to address them. PACA implements a mentor-mentee structure to allow youth advocates to work with experienced youth advocates to support them in their pursuits. With connections to school district boards, archdiocese, city officials, and even members of Congress, PACA’s mentors have immense qualifications as advocates. They also have the kindness to support their peers in their social justice endeavors to empower fellow youth voices. The power of having peer mentors support the new youth advocates is that a more open and relatable relationship dynamic between mentors and mentees occurs as opposed to adult mentors, which reduces the power gap. PACA enables each advocate to have the autonomy to choose an issue of their own to work on with the program, staying true to the goal of empowering youth voice by not asking participants to fight for a predetermined cause.
PACA breaks down the process of advocacy into topics such as goal-setting, self-education, awareness-spreading, and self-care. The culture that is fostered at PACA emphasizes kindness, youth empowerment and anti-racism. PACA is a place to grow and learn, not a place to be harshly punished for mistakes that can serve as life-changing lessons.
As an initiative of the Youth Empowerment Fund, PACA is also able to help youth advocates apply for $10,000 in grant funding for any project they design. This allows PACA not only to get youth started on the path of making real change, but to direct them to resources for that changemaking as well. PACA hopes to empower youth beyond San Francisco and the Bay Area one day.
PACA functions completely remotely, showing the strength of determination to make change in all the youth involved. Leveraging this, PACA will continue to guide impassioned youth onto paths of effective change and self-confidence
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