When most of us were in 7th grade, we looked forward to driving, maybe the prom, staying up late. When Valeria Chavez-Franco was in 7th grade, she already knew she wanted to join the First 5 Commission. Her bright smile and confidence come across immediately. She apologizes for the noise, mostly just the breeze, and some distant construction. Now, a 15-year-old sophomore at Woodside Priory School, she is the newest First 5 San Mateo County Youth Commissioner and she has big plans for her time there.
First 5 San Mateo County is governed by a body of commissioners. These folks make decisions about the partnerships, advocacy, and resources that First 5 San Mateo County offers and supports to foster success for every child. One seat on this commission is reserved for someone uniquely qualified to speak on behalf of children– a young person! When Valeria talks about what inspired her to join the commission, it almost pours out of her. “I was reflecting on my childhood in San Mateo and growing up in the public school system and all the different things we did have and didn’t have. And then, you know, COVID changed so much. And I have a younger sister. That age is so foundational and she is going through so much, so thinking about what she needs and what I need and all the transitions that have happened in the last few years just really made me want to get involved.”
She is clearly eager to get to work. “Specifically, I am really interested in transformative justice. We just had a presentation where they were talking about equity and equity practices and stuff like that, and I just really thought about how that could be an important part of fighting the county to school to prison pipeline.” Valeria Chavez is ahead of the game. She has started working with the School Resource Officers in the county to ensure that children are getting the support they need and the reassurance that they are important. “There is so much. COVID is such a big thing in our lives and we are transitioning out of it well, but I am excited to try and keep making sure that isn’t having too much of an impact on some communities more than others.”
Working with First 5 San Mateo County has really expanded Valeria’s view of her own future and her impact. “I love coming to the commission meetings. It’s so fun. It’s always jam-packed, and I love hearing about all the ideas they want to do for kids,” she begins. “They ask such insightful questions and they are so passionate about helping these children and making sure they get the lives they deserve, and they really make it happen!” she continues breathlessly. First 5 San Mateo County as an organization has modeled some elements of the future Valeria envisions for herself. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Who knows if I will ever know? But I want to help children, and First 5 has shown so many ways that ideas and resources and stuff can actually be put into practice. Their work makes me so impassioned and so happy and makes me look forward to the future.”