I wish someone told me that support is all around us. Many times I have felt alone, thinking that I had to do everything on my own, but that was not the reality. While it is difficult to do so, it is okay to ask for help.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alejandra Llanos.
Alejandra, a first-generation Mexican American, local teen of McAllen, Texas, and a current freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, recently took home the Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year honor. She earned her role as the organization’s newest National teen spokesperson and advocate, representing over 3 million kids and teens across the nation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up an only child in a single parent household, however it was never just me and my mom. We lived in Reynosa, Mexico with my grandparents until I began school, in which we moved to the U.S. In the U.S we stayed with my mom’s aunt, where they built a little room next to their house for us, and I loved it. My aunt had 5 children, and they were, and still are, like my own siblings. Eventually we moved away, but the relationships I had built with my family always stuck.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Ever since the COVID pandemic, youth throughout America has been impacted greatly. Social interactions are lacking and education is struggling. My Club has taken initiative and is working towards rebuilding the relationships within our community, helping kids overcome their mental health struggles, breaking down the barrier of loneliness, and providing these kids with learning programs. One specific thing we have worked on is the TLC (Think Learn Create) change model, in which youth at our center collaborated to create a project combating loneliness.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My Club, the McAllen Boys & Girls Club, has provided me with a second home. It has given kids from the community mental health resources, educational programs, and exposure to activities of their interests. Being one who has benefited from all of this, I have found an importance of giving back to our communities in all kinds of ways. Our community is where we grow, where we develop relationships, and they have seen us change as we get older. For this, is why I feel such a strong passion for giving back.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
March 21st of this year, I had the opportunity to advocate at the Texas Capitol. This was my first true taste of public advocacy, and wow did I love it. It was an exciting experience, and I felt so much passion speaking out about my own club experience. The purpose of this was to work towards attaining funding that would help continue the same resources I had received at the Boys & Girls Club. This made me realize that change is attained by action, and that I myself help and contribute towards it.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
While I initially attended the Boys & Girls Club because my mom needed child care during the summer, when I turned 13 it was no longer necessary for me to attend the Club. However, there was the opportunity to volunteer as Junior Staff and so I did that. It was an easy process, consisting of just an interview, and I would like other youth to know they can get so much out of it. While I understand our schedules can get busy, volunteering is something that works by your own schedule.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting story that has happened to me since I started representing as Youth of the Year was being able to have several conversations with President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Jim Clark. It was fascinating to speak to the person who oversees this impactful organization.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
While I have certainly made many mistakes throughout my life, the funniest mistake I have made has to be when I was learning how to drive and hit many many curbs. I was not being very conscious of the turns I was making, and I learned how important it is to pay attention to every surrounding and action. This was not only advice for driving, but also for my real life as being conscious of what is around us can help us be mindful of our actions.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My mother, Tricia, Dalinda, Kat, James, and the entire Boys & Girls Club of McAllen have cheered me on all throughout this process. Their voices and smiles full of excitement and pride every single time I spoke to them made me confident. At the national level, I remember one moment where my mentor Tricia and I were in the elevator and I was nervous about the judging process because I felt I was not good enough for the national title. She quickly turned these thoughts away and recalled everything I had done with the club as a remembrance of how much those things meant. In that moment I felt proud of myself, and I felt loved from all of the support surrounding me.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
While I am just starting on my journey as the 2023 National Youth of the Year, throughout my time at the Boys & Girls Club I have made some of the greatest connections of my life that have not only helped me but others. One in particular is with an amazing young lady, Alanna. She is only a year younger than me, and through our work at our Club we have created an amazing relationship and impacted each other astronomically. This past summer, Alanna told me I inspire her and that she aspires to be like me. Hearing that impacted me more than anything because it came from such a caring person, and if she viewed me in that way I cannot imagine how much more she will be able to accomplish with the Club.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Our communities can develop a norm of returning the growth and opportunities we each got out of the community back to others. It’s important to build a sense of connection and home that stresses the importance of giving back.
- Our society can help advocate to our politicians about the funding our communities need in order to continue developing the programs that help our youth, such as for more education and mental health resources.
- Our politicians can listen to our concerns and further uplift our voices so that we are heard when it comes to policymaking. Especially in the creation of bills that provide funding for our communities and organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
- I wish someone told me that support is all around us. Many times I have felt alone, thinking that I had to do everything on my own, but that was not the reality. While it is difficult to do so, it is okay to ask for help.
- I wish someone told me there is nothing to actually be afraid of. It took me so long to get out of my comfort zone as a shy kid. I don’t even remember the things that I was scared of, but this just shows that there is nothing holding us back but our own inner fear.
- I wish someone told me it is okay to not do it all. I tried to be involved in so many things throughout high school, but because of limited time I was not able to. I felt terrible, feeling that I was not doing enough for college or my life, but it is infeasible for us to do everything.
- I wish someone told me that it is okay to just live life sometimes. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to always be busy and do work, because otherwise I am “unproductive”. However, my work only turns out to be less efficient because we cannot function at our best without taking breaks and enjoying the fun things in our life.
- I wish someone told me how big even our little accomplishments can be. Usually only “big” accomplishments are celebrated, and in my experiences it has led to ignoring smaller things. It is good to celebrate all of our achievements, no matter how small, because it creates confidence and pride within ourselves and our abilities.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell other young people that they should consider making a positive impact on our society because our collective action is our source for change. If only one of us is attempting to make an impact the force is not strong enough, but if we come together as a community we will be amazed about what we can accomplish.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Greta Thunberg. I have been amazed with her huge impact as a young girl. Seeing her full of passion on crucial world issues makes me intrigued to hear about how that passion came to be and how she was able to showcase her voice to the world.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Alejandra Llanos Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.