Creating opportunities for Gonzales youth  A profile of Carmen Gil

By Nyelli Ceja

Carmen Gil grew up in Salinas as the daughter of a farm working family. She remembers how opportunities were limited and how difficult it was, as a first-generation college student, to figure out everything on her own. Now as an adult, Carmen Gil uses her passion for youth empowerment as the City of Gonzales’ Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships Director where she works to create opportunities for youth and advocate for equity and inclusion. She especially takes pride in her role as the advisor for the Gonzales Youth Council (GYC) because “the youth are our future, therefore they should be involved and have a say in what their future looks like”, Gil said.

Gil has been the advisor for the Gonzales Youth Council for 3 years now, which she describes as being “made up of passionate, driven highschool age youth who have a heart for community service.” 

Now in its 8th year, the Gonzales Youth Council continues to be the crucial link between Gonzales youth and the elected officials of Gonzales and the School District Trustees. In addition to advising their city’s leadership bodies, each year the Youth Council decides on an advocacy project in an effort to address an issue in their community. In 2020, the Youth Council launched the Mental Health Project after youth council members identified youth mental health as a prevalent issue in Gonzales. As soon as they decided on their topic, the Youth Council began to plan for  outreach. However, not long into the planning, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and put a dent in their plans. 

Although the pandemic put a halt to everything; from concerts, to school, to the world, it didn’t stop the Youth Council from continuing to pursue their project. Rather than accepting defeat, its members collectively decided to, “adapt from doing in person outreach to doing online data collection instead,” Gil said. 

Like the rest of the world, the Youth Council members soon realized isolation, loneliness and anxiety were just a few of the mental health issues quickly spreading throughout their community. Fueled by the pressing realization of COVID-19’s detrimental impact on their peers’ mental health, the Youth Council felt it became, “critical to understand the mental health needs of youth,” Gil said In the end, the project increased access to vital mental health resources for Gonzales youth, such as an additional social worker, while also amplifying the issue of youth mental health and encouraging conversations around the topic.

The current Youth Council, led by youth commissioners Sheryln Flores and Luke Naegle, is the 3rd cohort to identify mental health as an issue. They knew they needed to try a different approach to the crisis so, for their advocacy project, the 2022-2023 Youth Council decided to conduct a participatory research action project to collect information and inform a solution. They even took it a step further, partnering with CSUMB and successfully drafting and submitting a manuscript to​​​​​​ The Medical Journal of School Psychology, where it was successfully published. Gil says she is, “Astonished by the abundant amount of support the GYC’s latest project has received.” 

Gil says that the Youth Council is currently in the process of finalizing another research project about mental health. Now their goal is to understand how Gonzales’ youth mental health needs are the same or have changed in the post pandemic world. They also intend  to assess how the newly established mental health resources and support systems have impacted Gonzales youth. The Youth Council hopes to share the results of this innovative study in the next few months and plans to take action to address mental health needs with the help of their findings. When published, the results of their latest project will be posted online on the City of Gonzales’ website. In addition to their mental health project, the Youth Council is also working on  pedestrian safety and school and city beautification this year. 

Gil hopes to continue to be an advocate for the youth and community of Gonzales while continuing to be in a place where she can speak up and support the establishment of programs and services that support community wellbeing.

About Young Voices

Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.