Student Members of the Beach Cities Health District’s Youth Advisory Council Advocate for the Health and Wellness of Their South Bay Peers
The youth advocates.
- Written byAmber Klinck
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Rani Crosby is 15 years old and a high school sophomore. She’s also a third-year member of the Beach Cities Health District’s Youth Advisory Council. She first heard about the Youth Advisory Council when she was in eighth grade, and it piqued her interest.
“I was told that it’s all about student input,” Rani says, “people my age being able to take charge and implement their ideas. I was really excited to be a part of something that wasn’t just completely run by adults, and that we’d get to use our voices.”
When Zachary Zawacki was looking for a way to get involved in his community, contributing to the Youth Advisory Council seemed like an ideal fit. “It had everything that I was interested in,” he says. “When I was reading about what they do and what they’re all about—their overall goal—it was perfect for me. I’ve been with them over the past two years.
“I personally have struggled with mental health issues, as have many of my friends. So I started an Instagram account where I would post different mental health conditions or misconceptions, with some resources to help people out.”
Zachary now serves as one of two cochair leaders representing the council. “The main goal is to bring together youth perspectives from around the South Bay,” he explains. “We discuss different issues such as substance abuse and mental health.”
Through volunteer work, student-led projects and public speaking engagements, members strive to raise awareness and offer solutions for the health issues affecting their peers. And their impact is growing. In 2018 there were 20 student members in the Youth Advisory Council; today there are more than 80.
“The biggest thing I participated in started last year,” Rani says. “It was called the Photo Voice Campaign. We started by collecting photos in the Beach Cities of anything drug- or alcohol-related. The goal of the presentation was to showcase how often advertisements are pushed on people, whether they realize it or not. Seeing all the photos really shows you how often it comes up, whether it’s an ad in front of a restaurant or a smoke shop around a school.”
The project not only gave the students a greater awareness of the influences around them; it also gave them an opportunity to share what they found with their local government. “We had a lot of different public speaking opportunities where we got to present our Photo Voice Presentation at city council meetings,” Rani notes.
Community service has been a part of Rani’s life since middle school. She was the president of a club that partnered with the Surfrider Foundation for a beach cleanup. From there she was introduced to their Teaching Test program, where she worked as the student lab director and collected water samples from different beaches in the South Bay. The samples were tested for bacteria caused by pollution, with the results later released to the public.
“Seeing the data on how much bacteria [there was], it was really shocking,” Rani notes. But it also sparked her interest in environmental advocacy.
Zachary’s desire to serve his community was initially inspired by his own family. “My mom’s sister is autistic,” he says. “From a young age, I’ve learned to be sympathetic and empathetic toward others because of her. I’ve been going to events with her and her housemates for a long time.”
In addition to advocating for the health of others, Rani and Zachary are mindful of their own mental and physical well-being. Zachary has been playing baseball since he was 2 years old. “My dad and all his brothers are huge Yankees fans,” he notes. Surfing has also been a big part of his life. “I do it any chance I get.”
“The main goal is to bring together youth perspectives from around the South Bay. We discuss different issues such as substance abuse and mental health.”
Rani has been committed to tennis since fifth grade. “It takes a lot of time and it can be hard to manage with school, but it’s really fun to be with the team,” she says. When it comes to finding balance, she reminds herself to take breaks and make time for herself—noting that her mental well-being is just as important as her physical health.
“I personally have struggled with mental health issues, as have many of my friends,” she points out. “So I started an Instagram account where I would post different mental health conditions or misconceptions, with some resources to help people out. It ended up getting attention from kids at my school who really liked it. I’ve had kids come up to me and tell me they love what I’m doing and to please keep posting, which is really inspiring and incredible.”
With the help of the Youth Advisory Council, students like Rani and Zachary are making mental health a priority. They’re putting a spotlight on the negative influences targeting today’s youth, all while promoting the importance of staying physically active. These are lessons that will serve them throughout their lives.
“I was lucky to come across [the Beach Cities Health District],” Zachary says. “And I’m super happy that I did because it ended up being everything I wanted and so much more.”