The Youth Climate Ambassadors (YCA) Leadership Program is a first of its kind in California. The program is a knowledge-to-action seven-month long leadership program that provides 9-12th grade students in San Mateo County the opportunity to explore social and environmental issues contributing to the global climate crisis. Over the past five years, 273 students have participated in the program.

Participants increase their knowledge on climate change and build communication and other professional skills through a series of 10 workshops and retreats. Their work culminates with a Community Impact Project that is youth-created and youth-led and designed to translate knowledge and skills into local climate action and sustainable solutions. Since the inception of the program, 113 projects have been implemented across the county. Examples include “Bikes4theBay,” a bike donation, refurbishment and distribution program that has become its own nonprofit. A student in Half Moon Bay created a sustainable prom dress drive and recycling program. And a group of students led the construction of a pollinator garden at an elementary school in San Carlos.

Equity (one of SSMC’s core focus areas) is a focus of the program. Last year, the program staff conducted targeted outreach to equity-priority districts. The racial demographic of the current students now matches that of San Mateo County, and 34% of participating students qualify for an equity stipend provided to students with lower family income. Students are taught about inequities related to environmental impacts on marginalized communities and are encouraged to design projects that address those inequities.

This impactful program is a result of five government and community organizations coming together. It is run by the San Mateo County Sustainability Department and the San Mateo County Office of Education, and is supported by Peninsula Clean Energy, Acterra and Citizens Environmental Council.

The goal of this program is to grow and support emerging climate leaders across San Mateo County and we have seen the results. YCA alums are out in the community starting environmental clubs, introducing public comments at school board meetings and winning awards from SSMC!

Watch this short profile video to learn more about this innovative, impactful program!