Tulare County Youth Council teaches leadership skills and turns students into community heroes

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A program in the South Valley is teaching students leadership skills and turning them into community heroes.

When we met the group of teens on the Tulare County Youth Council, they were looking for Christmas trees to brighten up the holidays for struggling families.

Ezra Martinez is one of those teens; she is a junior at Mission Oak High.

"We know this is a hard time for a lot of people, and we don't want to take what we have for granted, and we want to bless others."

RELATED: Children First: Healthy Choices

The twelve members of the council are also seeking donations of food, toys, and clothes.

Redwood High junior Damiana White said, "I want to give those kids who may not get anything a chance to get something."

The council is part of the Choices program operated by Children First sponsor Tulare County Office of Education.

Gene Mendes is the program facilitator, "Sometimes in the news, we hear things that are not so positive, but these young people are doing great things and positive things in our community. We like to consider them the voice of the young in Tulare County.

Councilmembers come from different high schools throughout Tulare County. They volunteer at events like the Slick Rock Student Film Festival, and the anti-tobacco challenge bowl. One of their main goals is educating fellow students on the dangers of drinking alcohol and smoking.

They say vaping is a big problem among their peers.

"We see it in class, they just pull it right out and a lot of times teachers are just kind of oblivious to it," said Elizabeth Ramirez, a junior at Mission Oak High. "They don't really do anything about it because (the students) hide it very well. We are the ones who see those things."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 3.6 million middle school and high school students admitted to vaping this year. The latest trend is to use an e-cigarette called the Juul. The device looks like a flash drive, and some teens even charge these e-cigarettes using the USB ports on their laptops.

"(They charge them) in the middle of class, they're doing it, and I sit right next to them," said Damiana White. "I see it, but no one else tends to see it, and it's kind of amazing that no one else notices it."

Choosing to be free of tobacco can sometimes affect social lives.

"It kinda sucks, because you wish you were a part of that group, but at the same time, it's like, I know I'm making a better choice for myself, and a better choice, you know, for my future, said Damiana White.

Together, these teens are making an impact.

"We want our voices heard, that's part of the reason I like to be part of the youth council because as a youth, I don't want my voice to be wasted, I don't want other people to say what I think."

Their Positive choices are sparking positive results!

"I just feel more inspired to do even more, because I know that I made a difference in other people's lives, and it's definitely changing me for the better and helping me mature."
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