Our History

In 2006, worried about and heartbroken over a spike in youth violence, the San Diego community gathered with a goal to work together better for our children. Led by the work of the San Diego Organizing Project, they identified the catalyst of the tragedy: slashed funding for youth programs and services. Then, the elected officials, community organizers, committed public servants, religious leaders and parents created a plan they believed would bring a better future for San Diego.

The group knew re-establishing funding was only a piece of the solution. Their plan included a Youth Development Office (YDO) that would be devoted to making youth a priority by creating an integrated system that would protect children and youth from being the victims the next time the city faced financial struggles. The YDO would also ensure that the various perspectives and approaches in the county coordinated to support San Diego’s youth.

After years of hard work and advocacy, the establishment of the YDO was set in motion. It would be an office within the City of San Diego with the power to coordinate collaboration for policy development and service provision. Sadly, despite getting very close, the YDO never came to be within the City of San Diego. However, that does not mean good work was not done. The first iteration of the YDO helped set in motion a regional initiative to lower the rate of youth who are not working or in school. Learn more about the San Diego Youth Opportunity Pathways Initiative.

Now, after working with youth, elders and everyone in between to chart a new course ahead, we have changed the way we are doing our work. Youth will build the power needed to create change. Youth will collaborate with adults to improve the youth development ecosystem. Youth will demand prioritization from the decision makers in their community. Youth Will.

What Sets Us Apart

The young leaders who are Youth Will. We are the only regional organization where young people from the north, south, east, and west unite to drive the change they seek. We envision a youth-led movement by elementary to university students, young adults transitioning out of foster care and formerly incarcerated youth, and everyone in between.


Warsan Artan, Youth Organizer

Safia Haidari, Youth Organizing & Operations

Kathryn Tam Poeschel, Policy & Organizing Staff

Paul Watson, Youth Power-Building Mentor

Khea Pollard, Youth Prioritization Mentor

Tareq Haidari, Youth Development Mentor

Youth Leaders

Monet Panza, TechHire Intern, Communications Specialist

Haley Rico, TechHire Intern, Census Amabassador

Carlos Torres, TechHire Intern, Census Ambassador

Subrein Damanhoury, TechHire Intern, Census Ambassador

Brittany Holman, Communications Intern

Jennifer Phung, High School Extern, Census Ambassador

Josh Piedra, TechHire Intern, Data & Analytics Specialist

A’liyah Smith, High School Extern, Census Ambassador

Angel Zepeda, High School Extern, Census Ambassador

Our Board

Margie de Ruyter (Board Chair) – Coordinator, Career Pathways, College & Career Readiness – Learning & Leadership Services at San Diego County Office of Education

Imani Marshall (Vice Chair) – Evaluation and Learning Analyst, Mid-City CAN

Desjonae Hixon (Secretary) – Student, San Diego City College

Becky Phillpott – Founding Member

Max Ellorin – Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of Councilwoman Monica Montgomery

Nicky Riordan – Program Officer, Joan B. Kroc INstitute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego

Ryan Ginard – Chief of Staff, National University

James Halliday – Executive Director, A Reason to Survive (ARTS)

Samantha Harmer – Student, University of California, San Diego

Josue Hernandez – Business Solutions Specialist, San Diego Workforce Partnership

Irving Pedroza – Attorney, D’Egidio, Shah, & Townsend

Dinora Reyna – Executive Director, San Diego Organizing Project