Youth-led coalition addresses mental health in a pandemic

Members of Beach Cities Health District’s Youth Advisory Council attended the district’s coalition kickoff last year. Photo courtesy of Beach Cities Health District.


by Donald Morrison

Redondo Beach Union High junior Brooke Goldman is one of more than 80 middle and high school students from Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo Beach schools volunteering to promote awareness about mental health issues and substance abuse.

The students are members of the Youth Advisory Council, overseen by the Beach Cities Health District’s Partnership for Youth. The students make videos, infographics and slideshows on topics ranging from handwashing etiquette to the dangers of vaping. 

Goldman joined the Youth Advisory Council when she was in eighth grade.

“I remember seeing the program was about anti-drug and mental health awareness and those are two things I’m very passionate about,” Goldman said. “It’s hard as a younger person to feel like you have a voice. But through this program and working with adults, you see that they do care and they want to hear our voices and I think that’s been really big for me.”

During the pandemic, the council has helped her stay connected with her peers, while keeping busy with service projects and educational posters. 

“I am diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Goldman said. “There’s some perks to being home. My social anxiety is a bit better because I’m not seeing people every day. But. I need face to face learning.”

The council builds community by connecting students from neighboring schools under a common goal: to increase education around mental health issues and substance abuse among young people. It also gives students a chance to prepare for life after graduation, whether that means going off to college or joining the workforce. 

“Before this I didn’t really know how to send a proper email,” said Zach Zawacki, a senior at Mira Costa High School. “Or to set up your own meeting for something and just be more independent. It’s really up to you to decide how much work you want to put in and how committed you’re going to be to it.”

Members of the Youth Advisory Council attend monthly meetings, currently held on Zoom. A leadership program was recently created for students like Zawacki, who want additional opportunities to give back to the community. 

In May, Zawacki and a group of Mira Costa students collaborated with the Friendship Foundation to provide drive-by meals to families with special needs children. It’s one of the service projects that likely helped him get accepted into Boston College earlier this year. 

“I was just trying to find ways to be involved with my community,” Zawacki said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.”

The Youth Advisory Council was founded five years ago, after data from the California Healthy Kids survey found substance abuse among students between the ninth and 11th grade had doubled in recent years. The survey also reported an increase in suicidal ideations and other mental health issues among students. 

“As a public health agency, we use data to drive our decision making,” said Ali Steward, director of youth services at BCHD. “There were lots of really fantastic efforts already happening in the schools and in the community. But there wasn’t an umbrella to bring all of those efforts together. A lot of the work was happening in silos.”

Except for advisors like Steward and Engagement Coordinator Shana Martinez helping oversee the program, the Youth Advisory Council is almost entirely student-run. 

“They have a lot of passion and direction and they really know what’s going on,” Martinez said. “They have a pulse on what’s really important.”

For questions about the Youth Advisory Council or to apply, contact Shana Martinez at or (310)374-3426 ext. 161.

For other opportunities to get involved at BCHD, browse the volunteer service opportunities at and complete an application. For additional information, email or call 310-374-3426 ext. 246. ER

Since the pandemic, Youth Advisory Council leaders have been meeting on Zoom. (Photo courtesy of Beach Cities Health District.)


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