Youth Leadership Institute Is Inspiring Today’s Youth To Speak Up and Create Change

By Giving List Staff   |   November 17, 2023
Winners of the YLI Youth Fund Award discuss their project, The Stop Asian Discrimination project, with NBC Bay Area News reporter Gia Vang. This project addresses Asian discrimination and advocates for more American high schools to raise awareness on the topic and pay more attention to their Asian American students.

Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) is redefining leadership for the youth of 21st century America. Faced with deepening inequities in their communities, traditionally underrepresented youth have searched for a way to make their voices heard. YLI is their megaphone. Located throughout California, YLI and its team of trained adult mentors guide marginalized young people in how to be inspiring advocates so they can create and effect change. 

CEO Patricia Barahona recognizes the importance of YLI’s mission, because they were a person who felt unseen and unheard in their youth. “We work with non-traditional young people across the state of California to ensure that young people who feel disconnected and marginalized feel that they are at the center of change,” they say. “It’s something that I always craved as a young person. 

Journalists of Color reporters Gloria Flores and Jazmin Alvarado interview Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the First Partner of California, at the Capitol building in Sacramento during a press conference discussing the effects of social media on mental health.

And Barahona now sees it at work every day. Embedded in many schools across the state, YLI members meet with students to identify what is really happening in their communities, what needs to change, and how to improve the community experience. YLI workshops involve leadership development training, they teach how to facilitate a youth meeting, how to develop a compelling case for an issue, and how to identify, study, and analyze research allowing for more thoughtful and successful issue advocacy. 

Their model is working. To date, YLI has effected over 130 policy changes throughout the state of California. And they’re just getting started.  YLI boasts many individual success stories as well. When Fahad Qurashi found YLI, he was awash in despair and anger. The son of Pakistani immigrants, Qurashi grew up in east San Jose, keenly aware of the economic disparity and inequity all around him. By the time he was 18, he had already been incarcerated for a few years and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day because, as he says, “it just didn’t matter.” He joined YLI simply because there were few organizations that would help him build his résumé, which already had a felony on it. While there, he became interested in the tobacco prevention program, ironically. It was an epiphany to discover the targeting of youth and predatory practices of tobacco companies. YLI helped Qurashi discover that he could work within the system to combat the forces that were systematically oppressing him and people like him. He became a program assistant at YLI, and rose within the ranks to ultimately become Bay Area Director. From there, Qurashi left YLI and became a successful private consultant. 

Recently, when some students in Marin felt particularly unsafe in school bathrooms, because as Barahona explains, “For folks who are trans or gender queer, non-conforming, or non-binary, the bathroom can become an awkward space and doesn’t always feel super welcoming,” Youth Leadership Institute went to work on their behalf. 

YLI participants quickly came to understand how the problem and solution for these Marin students impacted their allies and their peers, and they rallied support for a policy change. They used what YLI had taught them, harnessed their voices and their power, and were able to procure gender-neutral bathrooms for these students.


Youth Leadership Institute

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Chief Development and Communications Officer: Tim Haydock


Youth Leadership Institute builds communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive community change that promotes social justice and racial equity.

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“Youth Leadership Institute is the antidote to doom scrolling on your phone – young people energized and creating solutions in their community.
James Wiley, Principal Counsel & Senior Manager at Apple

Your Donation Powers Youth Voice and Community Change

Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) helps harness and shape the energy, passion, and voice for those who are traditionally unheard and unrepresented. With proprietary training tools and a team of adult mentors, their innovative workshops help create effective policy change. 

A $5,000 donation helps fund YLI’s youth development model workshops that focus on leadership, research, storytelling, and campaigns that ultimately change communities. 

Your donation can also change the life trajectory of someone just like Fahad Qurashi, a Pakistani immigrant, who went from being incarcerated to joining the staff of YLI. He is now the Chief Programming Officer.

Key Supporters

Brandon Brown
Maureen Sedonaen
William Leitsch
Ivoree King
Kenneth Preston
Karissa Yee Findley