“You’ve got to sweat with them, and get on their level” said Siena Youth Center director Rafael Avendaño, when asked what is the recipe for successful youth engagement. Coach Rafa (as he likes to be referred to) leads the Bull Dog Riders, a youth advocacy group run out of the Siena Youth Center that is pushing elected officials to pay attention to and support youth within the unincorporated North Fair Oaks community in San Mateo County. He emphasized the importance of having the work and message of the group be youth led – a key example being the youth-created presentation he shared with the Spare the Air Youth Technical Advisory Committee in June 2019. One of the Bull Dog Riders’ recent successes is that the community will be building a bicycle pump track, the product of almost four years of conversation in which the Siena Youth participants were involved. 

When asked what books have shaped Coach Rafa’s views of youth engagement, he refers to the following three: Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by Bell Hooks; What a Coach Can Teach a Teacher by Jeffrey Michael Reyes Duncan-Andrade; and Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor Rios. Time to get these on your reading list?