2023 Youth Advisory Council

NYEC has selected 7 outstanding young people to sit on this year’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC).  The YAC is a group of young people (ages 16-24) who advise NYEC on policy efforts, program development, events, and other initiatives. The council is one way that NYEC ensures the voices of young people are being heard and incorporated into our work. Members of the council will also develop leadership skills and expand their professional abilities.
Learn more about this year’s members:
Julia Fensel | Co-Chair
Julia is passionate about increasing youth Civic Engagement. This passion is demonstrated through her position as the elected delegate of District 8 on the Austin Youth Council as well as her intern position with two nonprofits focused on youth civic engagement. She describes herself as a learner, leader, and an avid storyteller who fights for others. When asked why she was interested in joining the YAC, Julia responded:
“I am interested in joining the YAC because the NYEC has helped me greatly in the past. I was one of the recipients for the NYEC grant, and I hope to pay it forward by expanding NYEC’s reach. I love the mission of NYEC and I hope to be given an opportunity to work on NYEC’s policies and initiatives.”
Kendi Caldwell | Co-Chair
Kendi is passionate about empowerment. One way she demonstrates this is through her passion for normalizing natural hair and her goal to start a haircare business that empowers young girls to love their natural hair. She describes herself as organized and creative. When asked why she wanted to join the YAC, her answer was:
“I am interested in joining the YAC because I’d like to further my leadership experience… I want to have an impact on my environment and teach and guide my peers… Furthermore, as I interned with the NYEC this past summer I was able to sit in on a YAC meeting. From what I observed, the NYEC set up members with great opportunities and engaged with them in areas suiting members’ interest. Having this type of connection and opportunity seems really remarkable to me and I’d love to take advantage of that.”
Essence Gray | Policy Liaison
Essence is passionate about changing the world through unity and helping others see the greater good. This passion is evident in her current position as a Life Coach for ex/current shooters, helping them see the real meaning of life. Essence describes herself as a natural born leader with excellent communications skills. The reason Essence wanted to join the YAC is:
“My whole life as I can remember I wanted to change history. The culture in my city and around the world. We must start with ourselves. Over the years, I have grown in a role that I was called for at a young age. Being able to discuss policy and learning about what we as a collective can do to change our world, into the way we know it should be.”
Deshawn Childress | Policy Liaison
Deshawn is passionate about making change by motivating, inspiring, and influencing young people. Deshawn walks this out by volunteering in his local neighborhood as a liaison for high school students. He wants to further his impact by obtaining a degree in Policy. Deshawn describes himself as skilled in organizing and building partnerships. When asked his reason for joining the YAC, he responded:
“I’m interested because through Opportunity Youth United  ( Reconnecting Youth Campaign ) I had the opportunity to partner and here from the YAC.  I experienced being disconnected from service opportunities and employment at the age of 21 . I’ve also experienced loss at a young age. So I believe I can provide experience of how to deal with life situations and motivate young people to keep going.”
Josh Morrow | Policy Liaison
Joshua is passionate about expressing himself through things like gaming, photography, music, and graphic design. One way he channels this passion is through capturing portraits of others – he believes photographing someone smiling captures them in their most beautiful and purist form and hopes they too will see their beauty. Joshua describes himself as an excellent communicator who takes the initiative and empowers others. Joshua sated his reason for joining the YAC as:
“I’m interested in YAC because it was one of the first youth advisory groups I may get the opportunity to work with. My love and drive for being a voice for youth had came recently. In that short time I’ve made it my mission to be involved in every opportunity I get to gain more experience and knowledge from those around me. The Youth advisory council is another one of those great opportunities to learn, experience and make connections.”
Don McClain | Communications Coordinator
Don is passionate about civic engagement, advocacy, and being a mentor for youth. One way Don channels this passion is through their business, which helps entrepreneurs harness the power of social media. Don describes themself as an emotionally intelligent advocate who is great at communication. Don’s reason for joining the YAC is:
“I’m interested in joining the YAC as it would not only benefit me but expand my network and your network is your net worth! I believe connecting with people through the youth advisory council is so important. I’m also a part of the Johns Hopkins Center For Adolescent Health’s Youth Advisory Board where we do similar things!”
Activities Coordinator
This year’s Activities Coordinator is passion about food justice and food insecurity within her community. This passion is evident through her time spent volunteering at a local foodbank. She describes herself as a leader with interpersonal communication skills as well as analytical skills.  Her reason for joining the YAC is:
“During my time at various youth organizations, I have noticed that the voices of youth are not uplifted. I have noticed that the needs of youth are rarely met and there is no one to advocate for our needs unless we speak up about it ourselves. I want to make sure that all youth feel comfortable in their organizations and have confidence in demanding for change and asking for the needs they want. I know that the YAC will be a great step in that direction and will give youth a chance to meet with leaders and bring up issues that deserve attention.”
NYEC is extremely honored to work with this group of individuals, and we cannot wait to see the great work they will achieve.
Here are some ways you can support the YAC:

  • Lead a PD webinar/training for YAC members
  • Be available for an informational interview
  • Offer job-shadowing opportunities
  • Sponsor member’s travel to an NYEC event such as the Annual Forum
  • Invite members to a conference or other event
  • Connect the YAC with other youth councils
If you have any questions about the YAC or other youth leadership initiatives at NYEC, please contact Cailee Fitzgerald: cailee.fitzgerald@nyec.org.
*Some quotes have been edited for clarity and length.