Jóvenes SANOS youth, with program coordinator Pamela Velazquez at the Youth Center in Watsonville. The group is preparing to host a pop-up event there on Aug. 12. —contributed

WATSONVILLE—On Aug. 12, United Way of Santa Cruz County’s Youth Action Network and Jóvenes SANOS will host a pop-up event in Watsonville aiming to connect youth with mental health resources in their community.

The event is part of Youth Action Network’s ongoing pop-up series, which has had the group working with local partners to hold events across the county throughout the Spring and Summer. The organization has so far held events in Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Live Oak and Watsonville.

“We’ve been hosting lots of events across Santa Cruz County this year,” said Amanda Gamban, community impact coordinator for Youth Action Network. “This last one in Watsonville is important … it will focus on mental health.”

Youth Action Network is a community impact initiative made up of youth and adults, aiming to increase youth wellbeing by amplifying and strengthening their voices. Jóvenes SANOS focuses on increasing healthy eating and active living—and, recently, the group has been shifting its focus to also address mental health.

A number of local organizations will be on hand at the Aug. 12 pop-up, including Aptos Community Youth Program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cabrillo College, City of Watsonville, the Community Action Board’s Luna y Sol Family Center, County Park Friends, Digital NEST, Envision Fitness, Friday Night Live, Food What?!, Girls Inc. of the Central Coast, Monarch Services, NAMI Santa Cruz, Target, Encompass Community Services’ Transition Age Youth, Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, Second Harvest Food Bank, Watsonville Police Department, Youth Center and Yoga for All Movement.

The event will include a raffle, games and activities, a community mural painting, live music and other performances, and more. 

Lizabeth Garcia Lopez, a junior at Watsonville High School and member of Jóvenes SANOS, said that mental health support is vital to her and her peers’ well-being. 

“A lot of high schools don’t teach about mental health,” Lopez said. “It’s hard for people to talk about. But they have to learn about it sooner or later, and it’s better to know at an early age. This will be a fun activity to engage students, teach them more about mental health, like ways to cope with stress at school.”

Hosting the event in Watsonville is especially important, she said. 

“Being raised here in Watsonville, I didn’t have these types of resources,” she said. “They were not spoken about, in school or with my family. Mental health is not really spoken about in Hispanic culture. But I think it’s really important, teaching people that to be healthy you have to have to have good mental health. I really want younger generations to have that support.”

Community impact coordinator Pamela Velazquez said that the organization has benefited from its partnerships with the Youth Center, where they have held events many times before. She also highlighted Jóvenes SANOS’ work in organizing the upcoming pop-up.

“Throughout the summer, we held planning meetings with local youth to decide what this event was going to be,” she said. “We asked our partners to identify what their programming offers, and what is still needed in the community.”

The Watsonville pop-up event will be held at the Gene Hoularis and Waldo Rodriguez Youth Center, 30 Maple Ave., Watsonville from 4-7pm. 

Gamban encouraged local youth to stop by.

“With Covid, we’ve been stuck at home for so long,” she said. “We hope this will be a good reason for them to get out and connect. It’s just going to be a safe space for students to come and find help, and get connected with each other.”

For information visit sccyan.org.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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