Featured Fellows

YP4 is comprised of a vast network of diverse, dedicated, and passionate Fellows and alumni working to advance social justice and civic participation in their communities. Throughout the year, YP4 highlights their work by conducting “Featured Fellow” interviews with current and former Fellows.

Aaron Moreno

Aaron Moreno

Aaron Moreno, a 2008 Young People For fellow, is not your typical college student. Adopting his father’s values of working hard and working for the family, he got a job right out of high school. Now 26, Aaron works to combine his two passions: education and children. At Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, Aaron draws on the life experiences of his fellow students, many of whom are parents, to empower students attending Arizona’s dismally underserved public schools, whose spending ranks 49th in the country. His Blueprint for Social Justice, Chessmates, aims to challenge students and keep them off the streets through games of chess in their local libraries. Aaron plans to transfer to the University of Tucson next year and finish his degree in political science before running for school board.

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Amanda Matos

Amanda Matos

Amanda R. Matos, 2011 YP4 Fellow, is a community organizer from the Bronx, New York and has dedicated her time and efforts toward racial and gender justice and reproductive freedom. She is the Founder and Director of The WomanHOOD Project (Helping Ourselves Overcome Discrimination), an innovative after school mentorship program for young women of color in the Bronx. WomanHOOD started as Amanda's Blueprint Project in 2011 and has expanded since then, leading her to being selected as one of five young leaders to receive the Peace First Prize in 2014. Amanda also works in the reproductive rights field fighting for legislation that protects people's access to healthcare. She credits YP4 with providing her with the tools to engage in meaningful anti-oppressive work. She now serves as a mentor and trainer to support the cultivation of young progressive leaders in the fellowship program. In May 2013, Amanda graduated from Columbia University, where she studied Ethnic Studies and Human Rights, focusing on the intersections between sexism and racism in the United States. As an undergrad, Amanda developed her passion for justice through Columbia Urban Experience, Casa Latina, and the CU Scholar Chapter of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Now Amanda serves as the Graduate Student Relations Chair on the board for the Latino Alumni Association of Columbia University and as a board member on the Fund for a Safer Columbia. Drawing upon her life experiences, Amanda aspires to enter into politics to implement institutional changes in her communities. She recognizes the importance of bridging the gaps between academia, politics, and direct action.

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Ameenah Muhammad

Ameenah Muhammad

2009 Young People For Fellow, Ameenah Muhammed is a sophomore at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Hoping eventually to practice medicine in underserved communities Ameenah is a pre-med student majoring in Sociology. Although Ameenah was originally Biology major she recently decided to switch her major to Sociology in order to be able to approach medicine with specific knowledge of and focus on patient care and relations. In addition to her passion for health and medicine Ameenah has been active with community organization, Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) since high school, and is enthusiastic about working with youth in her community.  

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Andrea Headley

Andrea Headley

Andrea Headley is currently finishing up her last year at the University of Miami. An expected May 2013 graduate, she has been applying for graduate schools as well as seeking out options for employment within human service organizations after she graduates. She is a double major in Human and Social Development and Criminology with a minor in Communication Studies. She has worked with various non-profit organizations, taught law at an all boys detention center, conducted community based research, worked for political campaigns, and currently mentors and tutors student athletes. She believes in educational equality and opportunity for all as well as juvenile justice. She has interest in policy and various other legal aspects. Ultimately, she longs to become an influential community builder in her hometown to empower and uplift others by God’s help.

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Andrew Jenkins

Andrew Jenkins

Andrew Jenkins, 2010 Fellow, is a feminist killjoy and queer social justice activist hailing from the west coast. He started his activism as a student organizer, leveraging progressive issues to turn out thousands of young people to vote in the 2010 midterm election. In 2011, Andrew organized the first ever convening of LGBT military personnel – post repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell – as the Conference Director for OutServe. Andrew now brings his unwavering passion for youth leadership development and feminist praxis to the talented team at Choice USA, where he works to engage, train and mobilize the upcoming generation of reproductive justice leaders. In addition to mobilizing young people, Andrew is developing and implementing innovative programming to engage & recruit young men to be vocal advocates for reproductive and gender equity. When he’s not organizing on the ground, he’s doing it online as a contributing writer at RH Reality Check and ConwayStrategic.

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April Joy Damian

April Joy Damian

April Joy Damian is the founder of South of Market (SoMa) Scholars, a one-on-one mentorship program matching college students with low-income adolescents of color, the creator of Eat Your Heart Out: Addressing Heart Disease and Diabetes in the Filipino Community of San Francisco, and a 2008 Young People For fellow at City College of San Francisco

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Beatriz De La Espriella

Beatriz De La Espriella

Beatriz De La Espriella graduated from the University of Florida majoring in Criminology. For the last two years she has been a leader of the student organization CHISPAS which focuses on addressing the pressing needs of the immigrant community through advocacy and service. She is the North Florida Steering Committee Representative of the Florida Immigrant Youth Network. In the past two years Beatriz has worked with both campus and community members to organize against anti-immigrant legislation and work towards education for all regardless of immigration status. As part of CHISPAS, she started a campaign called, Undocumented Not Uneducated, that asked the university to effect policy change and openly accept undocumented students to the University. She was a Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Undergraduate Research Scholar and has conducted research to identify the relationship between acculturation, assimilation and analogous delinquent behavior of Hispanic immigrants.

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Dustin Cox

Dustin Cox

“If you truly do, deep down in your heart, want to help shape the world into a better place, then FLLA is the first step on your path to that goal. I’ve taken that first step, and am on the same path I hope to see future FLLA Fellows on. This program really has empowered us to stand on the front lines of the fight for a better America and a better future.”

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Elody Gyekis

Elody Gyekis

2008 YP4 fellow Elody Gyekis is earning a double-concentration bachelor of fine arts degree with a minor in civic and community engagement. She has designed, organized and painted three community murals in inner-city Harrisburg.

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Ernesto Villasenor

Ernesto Villasenor

As a student and research assistant at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) from Compton, CA, Ernesto Villasenor has focused on issues of social and environmental injustice in inner city communities. He has worked to develop methods of intervention in the areas of public health, the environment, and education. He has completed extensive work on public health disparities in Los Angeles County, helping to develop a resolution in the field of public health that has been adopted by seven school districts in LA County and published with the Latino Medical Student Association. Ernesto hopes his work will help bring positive changes in inner city communities, throughout the country, and the world.

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Jennifer Rubio

Jennifer Rubio

Jennifer is a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in Social Welfare. She is relocating to Manhattan this summer to attend Columbia University for her MSSW (Masters of Science in Social Work). As a McNair Scholar, Jennifer conducted programmatic assessment research with results aimed at assisting in the development of best practices for a women’s leadership program on her campus. She has dedicated much of her time to volunteer service in her community, focusing on LGBTQ issues, sexual assault research and prevention, and grant writing/fundraising for the Latino community. Jennifer plans to continue her work in the field of policy research to bring about macro change through legislation.

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Mario Lopez

Mario Lopez

Mario Lopez was born in Mexico City, came to the U.S. when he was 4 years old and lived in East Los Angeles, California. He attended East Los Angeles Community College where he founded a student support group for undocumented AB-540 immigrant students. Mario has centered his efforts on immigrant rights, economic justice, and educational policy. In 2008, he served as the AB-540 Campaign Coordinator for the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund working on a statewide and local campaign to pass the California DREAM Act. During his time as an intern for the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute he analyzed survey results of student’s knowledge of the labor movement. He was selected as a 2008 DMI Scholar through the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy where he received core trainings in public policy and gained an opportunity to network with key leaders in policy positions and the progressive movement. In 2008 he also served on the board of Adelante! California where he chaired the policy division. This summer, he was selected to participate in the 2009 Center for Progressive Leadership New Leaders Program in Washington D.C. He is interning with Voto Latino, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on motivating young Latino's to become civically engaged, and has worked on researching the strong correlations between the current debate over immigration reform and the increase in anti-Latino hate crime incidents and offenses. This fall, Mario will be entering the University of California at Berkeley as a Political Science Major. Mario Lopez is a senior at the University of California, Berkeley double majoring in Political Science and Statistics with a minor in Public Policy. In 2008, he was part of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy Scholars Program. A year later, he was part of the New Leaders Program at the Center for Progressive Leadership. As a YP4 Fellow, Mario developed the Immigration Policy Scholars Initiative. He has worked as an immigrant rights advocate and grassroots organizer since 2006. He currently serves as Co-Chair for Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education where he directs both the Advocacy and Fundraising Committees. Mario sits on the Advisory Board for ¡Adelante! California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing necessary resources for under-resourced students.

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Maya Torralba

Maya Torralba

Maya Torralba is the proud mother of Chado and twins Matthias and Kateri. She is also the founder of the Community Esteem Project in Anadarko, Oklahoma and a 2008 Young People For fellow at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

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Monique Gillum

Monique Gillum

With the ability to motivate and mobilize people to action, Monique Gillum is recognized as an emerging leader. At the age of 23, Gillum was hired by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, to serve as a Site Director in July 2009. As Director of the Murphy, Felton, Tindall Unit, Gillum lead a program that sought to help identify solutions to the challenges facing our youth. Gillum currently serves as Senior Advocate for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL. She works firsthand on juvenile justice and education reform projects in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. A graduate of College Leadership Florida, Gillum was also very active in Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) Student Government Association (SGA), serving as a student senator her freshman and sophomore years, and as Student Body Vice President her junior year. Then, her peers elected her as SGA President, serving from 2007-08. While in office, she served as the first female student member of the FAMU Board of Trustees and was appointed to the following boards and committees: FAMU Provost Search Committee, Florida Student Association and the Leon County Civic Center Authority Board. Gillum is a member of the Young People for the American Way Foundation's inaugural fellowship class of 2005 and a graduate of Front Line Leaders Academy. Gillum is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, the FAMU National Alumni Association, the Coalition for Justice, and a member of Beulahland Bible Church.

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Nicholas Sheffield

Nicholas Sheffield

Nicholas Sheffield has distinguished himself as a top scholar, outstanding future social worker, and an ardent education advocate at the University of Texas at Austin. Nick currently provides support to low-income and first-generation undergraduate students as a mentor, academic success coach, and financial peer advisor. He has also served as a community liaison for two separate university projects seeking to create a more prosperous education environment for young people with substance use disorder and young males of color. During the course of his education, he has cultivated his skills in research, policy, community engagement, as well as clinical and macro interventions in an effort to collaborate with marginalized communities on their path to equity.

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Sakeena Gohagen

Sakeena Gohagen

2009 fellow Sakeena Gohagen is double majoring in sociology and African American studies at Florida State University. Last year she served as FSU Vote Coalition campus organizer as well as mentoring students and serving as United States Student Association People of African Descent Vice Chair.

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Thomas Helmstetter

Thomas Helmstetter

A 2005 Young People For fellow, T.J. currently serves as Director of Communications and Development at Garden State Equality, New Jersey's LGBT equality organization. Previously, he was statewide Communications Director of New York's labor-backed Working Families Party, where he helped expose right-wing politicians and elevate the spotlight for issues of economic justice. Before that, as a consultant with Blue State Digital, he worked with progressive causes (and corporate clients, too) to raise their profiles (and their dollars) online. While at BSD, he was most proud of his work with LGBT causes including Freedom to Marry and the launch of Dan Savage’s inspirational “It Gets Better” campaign.

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