Youth Will – Build youth power, improve youth development, and demand youth prioritization
We focus on giving voice to those age 25 and younger.
Advocacy for policy priorities to build a more equitable future
Youth Leadership Development & Advocacy
Our youth action teams meet regularly to guide priority focus, and advocate for the changes our youth have identified to create a better San Diego.
Youth-led model in which adult allies provide support & advice.
Meet our Staff
Director of Communications & Internal Development
Warsan’s family immigrated to the USA in 2006 and have lived in San Diego County since. She went to Helix Charter High School and then to San Diego State University. She graduated in May of 2019 with a bachelor’s in political science and a minor in biology. While at SDSU, Warsan served on the College of Sciences Student Council for a year and on the Associated Students (AS) Government for two consecutive years. This activated her passion for political engagement, community advocacy and youth leadership. In addition to her work with Youth Will, Warsan serves as the Co-Vice Chair for the County’s Human Relations Commission and is a member of Caafimaad Collective an initiative based out of Minneapolis focused on empowering Somali women in their mental health journey. She is passionate about political engagement, community organizing, prioritizing underrepresented communities, and ensuring that leaders invest in every aspect of youth’s lives to secure a successful path and future for every child in San Diego County.
Director of Policy Advocacy & Organizing
Safia Haidari is a first generation Afghan-American. After graduating from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s in Social Science, Safia started working with various community based organizations. She spent time volunteering with the International Rescue Committee and working with refugee youth to assist them with navigating career and educational advancements. Hearing these stories of resiliency allowed her to discover her passion for amplifying youth voices and providing young people the tools needed to create the communities they wish to see. Safia currently serves as the Director of policy advocacy and organizing at Youth Will, a local grassroots nonprofit organization in San Diego.
Maya De La Torre
Programming & Organizing Associate
Maya De La Torre was born in San Diego and raised in the Bay Area. She holds a B.A. in Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor in Sociology from the University of San Diego. During her time at USD, she served as a Senator for Associated Student Government for two years and was elected as Speaker of Senate during her third year in student government. On campus, Maya also embodied her commitment to promoting diversity in higher education by serving as the President of the Association of Chicanx Activists, the Vice-President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion of Mortar Board National Senior Honor Society, and the student liaison for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the department of psychological sciences. She has also worked with justice-involved youth as a workshop facilitator in juvenile detention facilities and currently serves as a Commissioner for the Juvenile Justice Commission of San Diego County.
Current & Past Interns
Laila Del Rio
Meet Our Advisory Board
Becky designed and managed targeted youth intervention programs, including Check & Connect Pathways Opportunity Youth, an Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions initiative, Check & Connect High School Persistence research implementation study, and other locally developed attendance and school engagement programs, up until her retirement from the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). She has worked for more than 30 years in education policy analysis, advocacy, and program development, serving as Policy Analyst to the Board of Education and Legislative Programs Analyst for SDUSD, as well as a Field Director for U.S. Senator Alan Cranston, and U.S. Representative Jim Costa, then a Member of the California State Assembly from the Central Valley. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, Political Science, from San Diego State University. She currently serves on the boards of the Youth Will_ , Harmonium, Inc., and the San Diego State University Alumni Association – Bay Area Regional Council.
Imani Marshall was raised in Chicago and now lives and works in San Diego. Both cities have taught her about identity, power, health, and place, which she studied as a Political Science major at Amherst College. As a Bill Emerson Nation Hunger Fellow, Imani developed programs and conducted research to improve low-income mothers’ access to breastfeeding support and healthy foods and WIC’s national participation and retention rates. Now, as Mid-City CAN’s Evaluation and Learning Analyst, Imani applies her research, data analysis and evaluation skills to support Mid-City CAN’s programs, organizing, and advocacy. This work builds off her past community organizing experience with President Obama’s reelection campaign and contributes to continued local advocacy & community organizing efforts. She is passionate about working at the intersections of healthcare, public policy, and research to promote well-being in communities that are surviving systemic racism and oppression.
James Halliday is currently the Executive Director of A Reason To Survive (ARTS), a creative youth development nonprofit and community arts center located in National City, CA. In previous roles, James was Regional Manager of Collective Shift / LRNG, an MacArthur Foundation-funded education technology platform focused on credentialing out-of-school learning; before that, he was Program Director for the Education Synergy Alliance, where he advanced excellence and equity in school districts across San Diego. After graduating from Stanford, James completed graduate studies abroad, then worked as a journalist for a decade in Eastern Europe and Turkey. James is a serial social entrepreneur; a member of the Rotary 33 chapter in San Diego; board member for the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation and YouthWill; and sits on the City of San Diego’s Citizens Advisory Board on Police-Community Relations. When he’s not working, he’s cooking. When he’s not inside, he’s on hiking or playing tennis. When he’s not here, he’s across the border, in Valle de Guadalupe or at a Xolos match.
Margie de Ruyter
Margie de Ruyter is a coordinator with the San Diego County Office of Education’s College and Career Readiness department, providing career technical education support to K12 school districts and the County’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools. She participates on the community college regional consortium’s Strong Workforce Program workgroups to help inform priorities and goals for K-12 funding and provides support to the College and Career Readiness team in developing strategies to enhance and develop career pathways for K-12 districts. In addition, Margie has over 20 years of experience in the administration and oversight of workforce development funds for the San Diego County region. She led the design, development and implementation of youth and adult workforce training programs, managed procurement processes, monitored annual performance accountability and provided workforce board support. As a consultant with the Public Consulting Group, she led projects within the public workforce development domain, providing subject matter expertise to state and regional clients, designing and implementing best practice solutions. Margie is a workforce development coach for CA Workforce Development Board’s Workforce Accelerator Fund grantees. Margie currently serves on the board of YouthWill and Harmonium Inc. She has a B.A. in Human Services Administration from Springfield College, an Executive Management Certificate from UCLA, and will complete her MPA from Univ of Mass Global in June 2021. Margie enjoys travel and exploring the outdoors hiking throughout SD county.
Desjonae Hixon is a 23 year San Diego native currently attending college full-time studying Fine Arts. She currently is working for herself in her small business selling art and resin crafts locally and through Etsy. Desjonae is a self-taught artist with the hopes of combining her love of art with her passion for youth empowerment. Through her first-hand experiences, she wishes to share her insights with those who may be struggling with violence, homelessness, and neglect. For a few years now she has been more involved with her community committed to advocacy for homeless youth and education in her surrounding areas.
Trial Attorney Irving Pedroza has dedicated his life to helping people overcome adversity. Irving practices in courts all over the State of California, litigating hundreds of cases involving personal injury, bad faith insurance, civil rights, and consumer class action. He has recovered millions of dollars for his clients. Irving was born in Guerrero, Mexico from humble beginnings. At the age of six his parents immigrated to the United States, to Escondido, where he grew up. Irving’s family struggled with poverty, mental health disorders, and domestic violence. As a result of his upbringing, Irving has dedicated his life to helping others, through the justice system, or during his spare time through peer-mentor programs. Irving was the first in his family to attend college. After College, he obtained his Juris Doctorate from California Western School of Law. Irving is a relentless and passionate advocate for his community. Aside from YouthWill, Irving serves as a Director and Motivational Speaker with PowerMentor, a non-profit organization that focuses on developing young leaders through mentorship. Additionally, Irving sits on the board of directors for San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.
Meet Our Mentors
Helping To Lead Future Generations
Tareq Haidari has ten years of government and non-profit sector experience. He has acted as a direct lobbyist and political organizer for nonprofit organizations focused on community development and transportation. Tareq has researched and drafted white papers on a wide range of public policy issues including juvenile criminal justice reform, public transit investment, and youth development. He has a strong understanding of the state and local legislative process, and public budget development. Tareq obtained his BA in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and MA in Public Administration from San Diego State (SDSU).
Paul L. Watson, Jr.
Formerly Executive Director of the Training and Research Institute for Residential Youth Centers in New Haven, CT; San Diego Youth and Community Services; and Watson and Associates International. Paul began his career as a youth organizer at the age of 17. He has a Master’s degree from Springfield College. He began a consultant organization in 1998 and specialized in Community Development, Youth Development, Child Welfare, and Organizational Development. He successfully completed International projects in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan), The Netherlands, Brazil, Jamaica, and Egypt. He is a national trainer in Youth Development and a member of the Community Youth Development Design Team. He was trained as an ICA Participatory Facilitator. Paul has also served as faculty at Springfield College, New School of Architecture and Design, San Diego City College, and UC San Diego. Paul has won numerous awards and has published both books and articles.
Khea Pollard is a Justice Program Manager for the National Association of Counties, County Innovations Lab, serving County governments across the United States. Khea’s work focuses on the intersection of behavioral health; criminal justice reform; and equity, supporting counties participating in NACo’s flagship initiative “Stepping Up” to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in county jails. Prior to this role, Khea was the Health and Human Services Policy Advisor and Community Representative for County Supervisor Greg Cox, advising the Supervisor on issues pertaining to children and youth, child welfare, juvenile justice, safety net and eligibility programs, behavioral health and the County Probation Department. She coordinated the Neighborhood Reinvestment and Community Enhancement grant programs on behalf of Supervisor Cox, allocating millions of dollars to community-based organizations over the course of six years. A native San Diegan, Khea graduated from the University of San Diego (USD) with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Ethnic Studies. She held multiple leadership positions during her time at USD and is a recipient of the prestigious Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges, an award recognizing academic excellence, leadership in extracurricular activities, citizenship and services to the school, and potential for future achievement. She obtained her master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management at the University of San Diego and has worked on numerous nonprofit consulting projects in the areas of finance, strategic planning, civic engagement, human resources and more. Khea’s passion project is her coffee shop co-owned by her and her mother, Cynthia Ajani. Café X: By Any Beans Necessary’s mission is to build a sacred space that nurtures Black cultural heritage in San Diego while creating generational wealth for its members and surrounding community. Blending advocacy with organizational precision, Café X is connecting people throughout the San Diego region, developing a shared vision to improve the quality of life in marginalized communities – one cup of coffee at a time. Khea also serves on the Executive Committee of the Black Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (BWILD) and is a proud RISE Urban Leadership Program Alumni.
Youth Will gives a voice and venue to a younger demographic by uniting young leaders and adult allies. We aim to ensure that every person under 25 has access to civic, financial, and social opportunities to lead their best life.
We coordinate and create access to youth advocate programs in accordance with our Youth Bill of Rights. Learn more about our Bill of Rights, priorities, and wins at Community Impact.
Bridging Youth Advocate Programs
Youth Will, known as the Youth Development Office of San Diego at its founding in 2012, set out to create opportunities for young adults and children alike to help them achieve a more equitable future. With fiscal sponsorship provided by RISE Urban Leadership Institute, Youth Will is focused on community organizing, grassroots advocacy, and policy change.
In 2006, concerned organizers, elected officials, public servants, religious leaders, and persons within the local community, set out to address the high incident rates and spikes of youth violence. They recognized the need for more funding for youth programs and services, and together devised a plan they felt would make a brighter future for all.
This plan envisioned paving the way for the creation of the Youth Development Office and included an integrated system aimed at shielding children and youth from being victimized by the city’s financial hardships. Initially, the YDO was to be an office within the city of San Diego that held the power to coordinate policy development and service provisions affecting San Diego youth programs. Unfortunately, the YDO did not come to be, however these efforts set a regional initiative in motion to lower the statistics of unemployed youths and children who are not in school, known today as the San Diego Youth Opportunity Pathways Initiative.
The Youth Development Office rebranded in May 2019 and became Youth Will.
Over the last year, San Diego Youth Will has coordinated 5 programs, totaling $1.72 million for San Diego youth programs:
- June 2021: Created the first and only central office in San Diego for youth advocate programs.
- March 2021: Created youth employment opportunities in community green spaces, through the Youth Environmental/Recreation Corps.
- June 2021: Supported youth employment at rec centers with the City Youth Environment Corp.
- May 2021: Helped young girls feel more free to visit public spaces through the #Free4Me program, funded by San Diego county.
- May 2020: Our Emergency Resource Ambassadors spread emergency COVID-19 resources and supplies for low-income youth.
Help Us Empower San Diego’s Youth
The world we want is only possible if we work together and get involved with the issues facing our youth today.
San Diego is the “eighth-largest city in the United States” and “there are approximately 43,210 16- to 24-year-olds in San Diego County who are not in school and not working.” — San Diego Youth Will is making a difference.
And you can help us make an even greater impact in the San Diego Area. Learn how to Get Involved in coordinating San Diego youth programs with San Diego Youth Will.