MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
If ever there was a year when the voices of young people are being heard in one way or another, it’s 2020.
The year has seen young people recognizing the power of their vote, protesting in the streets en masse about issues impacting their lives and the lives and deaths of others and demanding their rights.
Today, there is a new story unfolding for young people that moves beyond the norm as they ensure their voices are heard.
Young Invincibles, which has five state offices, including one in Los Angeles, is a nonprofit organization that is harnessing the strength, energy and influences of young voices 18-34, in an effort to mobilize and expand opportunities for millennials regarding issues like the economy, health care, jobs, and education.
The term Young Invincibles was originally coined when President Barack Obama was presenting his Affordable Care Act and young people felt they were invincible and, therefore, did not need health insurance because they didn’t think they would ever get sick or have an accident.
The organization was founded in 2009 because young people’s voices weren’t being heard in the debate over health care reform. Since then, its mission has been to amplify the voices of young adults in the political process and expand economic opportunity for its generation.
“Young Invincibles is about the millennials and Gen Z-ers who are growing up,” said Kristin McGuire, Young Invincibles western regional director. “Now is the time of the young adult, which covers both of those generations. Right now, we are the most powerful voting group.”
McGuire, who has always advocated for disenfranchised communities, chose to work with Young Invincibles for a reason.
“I always wanted to work for an organization like YI where my needs were also being addressed and because the organization is making a difference,” she said. “Black young people and low-income people and their issues are something that has always resonated with me because that group is usually left out of the political process.”
McGuire, a married mother of two, said what young people want today is access.
“The most important thing, the biggest concern of young people today is that they want the same access to the American dream that folks had in the 50s,” McGuire said. “They were told to get a job at the post office back in the day. Well, now every day we’re being told the post office may close. Young people of today want and deserve a shot as well.”
In the spirit of giving young people “a shot,” McGuire said Young Invincibles is currently leading state-level campaigns connected to college affordability, food security for students and career and technical education. It also has ongoing advocacy days in Sacramento, including hosting its signature leadership training program, Young Advocates, which is set to start in spring 2021. Applications for interested parties will be made available in December.
Young Invincibles provided more than 8,000 young adults in the region with consumer and policy information on health care, higher education and employment.
Young Invincibles, co-founded by college friends Ari Matusiak and Aaron Smith, currently has a workforce campaign that centers on creating pathways into career fields and work base learning in community colleges.
“We launched ‘Here to Career,’ a mobile app that allows you to see the programs that colleges have and what projected jobs you could possibly get,” McGuire said.
The app provides early-career navigation that helps young adults learn more about in-demand career pathways available through the California Community College system.
“When talking about college students, education is a whole new world,” said McGuire, who graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills. “When we look at data, we see a large population who are not fresh out of high school. They are caregivers. They are part of the workforce.
“There are so many of them that they have almost become the traditional students now. Higher education policies need to impact those folks as much as it does the student out of high school. We are looking at food and housing insecure students. It’s not like it used to be.”
McGuire, a self-described army brat who realized early on that her voice stood out and often differed from public opinion, said Young Invincibles is actively working with the state legislature to create other ways to get support, including a grant which would allow them to apply for emergency funding.
One of the organization’s recent campaigns is called Relief Belief, launched when colleges were forced to close after Gov. Gavin Newsom put California on lockdown due to COVID-19.
“When the schools closed, a number of students lost their on-campus jobs, which left them unable to pay their rent,” McGuire said. “It also left them unable to get out of their leases. Even though the governor did an eviction moratorium, students were left having to pay thousands of dollars to break their leases early so that it would not go on their credit. We are asking the governor for an executive action that would allow those students to break their leases.”
McGuire, 38, said there has been some progress, but not enough to satisfy the organization.
“There has been some movement on the state level, but not what we want,” she said. “Some cities are accepting the challenge. In Irvine, we were able to gather signatures. The city of Irvine came up with a grant program specifically for students to get out of leases. It’s a start, but we have a long way to go.”
McGuire said Young Invincibles supports AB 376, the California Student Borrower Bill of Rights, which will create new rights for all California borrowers. The legislation would require student loan companies to create strong new protections to prevent companies from deceiving teachers and public service workers and misleading military borrowers.
“If it passes, it will create a bill of rights with student rights that will give them consumer protections,” she said. “It will change the game.”
When it comes to education, McGuire said policymakers need to know that the world is different.
“Officials come from a different time,” McGuire said. “You can’t work 20 hours a week and make enough to pay for college. Today, everyone needs credit to take out a student loan.”
Regarding health care, McGuire said the organization is overseeing a major health care education project targeting underserved youth populations, and creating a coalition of community health centers, youth service organizations, high schools, and community colleges.
Reportedly, there are 16 million millennials struggling to pay medical debt.
“That debt is coming from everywhere,” McGuire said. “In California, we have great medical programs. But if you don’t know how to use it, you will continue to work like an uninsured person. One night in a hospital can cost you thousands. You’re immediately in debt.”
Of the two million millennials in California who are uninsured, Young Invincibles has been working in a coalition to expand health care for people in the state.
“We’re about policy and advocacy,” McGuire said. “We’re about impacted young people participating in the policy process, telling their stories, and advocating for themselves by talking with politicians. I always tell young people that civic engagement is a verb. It’s an action word. It’s time to get involved.”
McGuire said what young people are trying to say is that they are concerned with “several issues.”
“There is a certain belief system that doesn’t work anymore,” McGuire said. “We can help by giving them information that could save them from economic insecurity. Information can be life changing. The plight of a young person is just not the same.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.