October 22, 2012
My name is Amber Cato and I am a senior at Gateway High School. I stand here as one young woman who is stronger and better because of the opportunities I have been given by this partnership. I’m here to accept this award on behalf of my partners, the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and the Wellness Programs of the San Francisco Unified School District. But most importantly, I accept this award on behalf all of the other young women who have been a part of these programs, many who are here in this room tonight. They are my sisters, my teachers, my partners in creating a community where young women receive support and opportunities to find their voice, their passion and their power.
I’ve been involved in the youth programs created by this partnership for the past 2 years and they have played an important role in making me into the person I am today. I want to share my experience with you so you will get an inside look at the impact of this partnership that you are celebrating today. I was a sophomore when I interviewed and was selected to become part of the Youth Steering Committee. It was my first job and I was nervous, and also a bit confused about what to expect. I was the youngest in the group and thought I didn’t know anything. I was shy and afraid to speak up or give my opinion about anything. On top of it all, I was going through some very difficult times in my life, and I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it through.
The Youth Steering Committee meetings began and I showed up. I met girls who were different than me – girls from other schools, different neighborhoods, and different backgrounds. I wasn’t sure what I had in common with them. At first I was quiet. I just kept showing up. Over time I realized that coming to this group each week helped me to feel stable. I was feeling better about my personal situation, and I was beginning to feel that I could make it through. I knew that regardless of our differences, the other YSC members were not going to gossip or talk bad about me. I learned that they would actually be kind, lift my spirits and support me. I had a new and bigger sense of community; a community of peers and adults who I could count on for support.
Together we explored our definition of health as young women and began defining the changes we wanted to make in our community. I began to realize that I wanted to and could get myself together. I started feeling that I could actually make a difference. We planned the Young Women’s Health & Leadership Summit. We chose “Woman in the Mirror, Kindle Your Fire, Dream and Inspire” as the theme. This theme represented us as young women, looking in a mirror and seeing all of our peers, our sisters, with us and supporting us. This sisterhood became a part of me. I began to find the courage to speak up. I began to see that I could do something; I could create something that could help other young women and me, too. I began to see that I had something to offer.
As a team, we achieved our goals. We created an amazing summit that was attended by over 200 girls in San Francisco. Our summit made all girls feel welcome, they got the health information they wanted, and they found their voice thru spoken word workshops and an open mic. We created an overall feeling of sisterhood!
The YSC made me more aware of who I am and what I can do. I learned that being present had an impact. I learned that asking questions and offering my perspective was important. I started taking more control of my life.
This program gave me the jump start I needed to prepare for my junior year in high school – the year that matters most when you’re applying to college.
When the program ended, I still wanted to be involved. I had learned the importance of community and I wanted to give back. I let my UCSF partners know this and they invited to be on the review committee for the Innovations in Young Women’s Health Award Program. As one of three youth on this committee, I gave a unique perspective on the projects being planned for each school… my perspective was heard, my opinions mattered. This reinforced that my voice was important and my confidence in myself continued to grow.
Who am I today? I have more courage. I am comfortable and confident in speaking up. Something inside of me has changed. I know I can make a difference in my own life and in the lives of others in my community. I’m now participating in the Innovators in Young Women’s Health Program, creating a program to help the girls at Gateway High School deal with stress and build their self-esteem.
I have also learned that young people are important and necessary partners in creating programs that help youth. Judy, Annemarie and Anna at the CoE trusted us and we learned to trust ourselves. We really do know what our challenges are and we have good ideas about how to address them. And we can make them happen. But we need opportunities and support to make this happen, to understand our potential and how we can change our world.
So on behalf of San Francisco’s young women past and future, I thank UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and the San Francisco Unified School District for being great partners in creating these programs for us. Most importantly, we thank them for teaching us how to be great partners with each other as well as with them. We are committed to using the skills and values we have learned into the future to change the world.