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Empower Watsonville hosts annual leadership conference

Danny Contreras (on stage) speaks to the crowd at Empower Watsonville's annual conference on Dec. 2. —Empower Watsonville/PVPSA

WATSONVILLE—Empower Watsonville, a youth leadership group that aims to amplify young voices in local government, hosted its annual conference at the Gene Hoularis and Waldo Rodriguez Youth Center on Dec. 2.

Empower Watsonville is a health policy program of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA) for students grade 8-12. It focuses on advocacy and leadership, aiming to reduce youth substance use in the region.

This year’s conference highlighted the importance of mental health, especially within the Latinx community. About 300 people attended, including youth and community members. Local organizations were on hand to offer resources and leadership activities, including the Community Action Board (CAB) and Second Harvest Food Bank. The event also featured a keynote speech by local advocate Danny Contreras, who spoke about his own challenges and achievements. He urged the community to “create progress for themselves and their communities.”

“The Empower Watsonville youth group desires that the conference spark new interests within youth in the importance of mental health,” said Sofia Cuentas, community health policy coordinator with PVPSA. “We aspire that our community sees the effort youth have shown to limit youth social and retail access to substances through public policy.”

Mia Rebolledo, a new Empower Watsonville member, said the event was a very good experience. 

“It was nice seeing people that I knew and that I didn’t know,” Rebolledo said. “I liked the speech, it felt relatable because I know some people who are headed that path. I liked the stations and especially the Watsonville Wetlands because they brought a snake, and I thought it was cool.”

President of Empower Watsonville, Brooklyn Llamas, called this year’s conference “a night to remember.”

“It was an amazing community event with lots of fun and engaging activities for the whole family to enjoy,” Llamas said. “Danny was a great guest speaker. His story was inspirational, leaving me motivated more than ever. The youth led a beautiful event, and I couldn’t be any prouder of them. A special thank you to all the families who joined us that evening.”