Our Future Leaders: The New Casa Grande Youth Alliance


by Evelyn Benitez, Communications Specialist, and Christina Petrin, Chair, Casa Grande Youth Alliance

Casa Grande has 60,184 full-time residents. Approximately one-third of our population is younger than 18. We are the future of Casa Grande, Arizona and our country. We all want our youth to grow into successful adults. One of the best ways for helping us learn is through providing us with opportunities to organize as youth and develop our leadership skills.

To provide more young people this opportunity, the Casa Grande Alliance has launched the new Casa Grande Youth Alliance (CGYA). Over the next year, this group will identify and research needs, organize and evaluate community and school service projects, provide a strong foundation to area Students Against Destructive Decisions chapters, and will strive for every member to earn the Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

Since June, Casa Grande Youth Alliance has been organizing and is working toward having representation from all Casa Grande middle and high schools. The CGYA provides a safe, stable, supportive environment for us to come together, think together about how best to help our community and then be empowered to take positive action.

In return, this will provide us with the opportunity to sharpen our project management and leadership skills, which will give us real-world training in setting and achieving goals. CGYA also provides us with a great way to find our passion and be inspired for our future.

The chair of the youth alliance is Casa Grande Union High School sophomore Christina Petrin. She provides leadership to the overall effort and leads a team for decision-making, managing membership, communications and organizing meetings.

The CGYA will be organizing to support the SADD chapters in Casa Grande middle and high schools. We will be working to promote healthy choices being made by our peers and hope to make a positive difference for our schools. The chair of the Casa Grande SADD chapters is Casa Grande Union High School freshman Drake Maestas. As we continue to get organized for the school year, Drake and his team will be leading the development of projects and activities to encourage fellow students to make positive choices.

Another of our goals is earning the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. We are working on developing systems to track our service hours and are thinking creatively about how to organize service projects to benefit our schools and communities. To qualify for this distinction, we will be organizing to serve up to 250 volunteer hours over the course of the next year. The chair of volunteerism for CGYA is Vista Grande High School junior Aniqa Kahn. Aniqa will be working with our group to make sure we track all of our volunteer service hours. She and her team will also be working to identify volunteer opportunities for us in the community as the head of this project. Aniqa works alongside Bob Shogren, executive director of the Casa Grande Alliance, to find volunteer opportunities and keep track of the members’ hours.

Our three co-chairs of the youth alliance were interviewed about how the CGYA has impacted their lives and helped them find the leader within them.

Why did you apply to be a part of the newly forming Casa Grande Youth Alliance?
Drake: I joined the youth alliance because I saw it as an opportunity to help my community. My personal goals are to help to create a community that has unity. I know I can’t do this alone, so thankfully the Youth Alliance has created an opportunity for youth who feel the same as I do and will allow us to help shape a community that we want to live in.

What do you hope the CG Youth Alliance will accomplish this year?
Christina: I hope that the CGYA will be able to help our schools and our community with service projects. We also hope to positively represent the youth voice in our community.

What do you believe is the biggest issue facing your peers?
Aniqa: Not seeking higher education is a large issue facing my peers. I have seen a great number of my peers lose their focus on what is most important as a result of the adversity and challenges in their lives.

What advice would you give someone who wants to join the new Casa Grande Youth Alliance?
Aniqa: We welcome new members and are continuing to recruit to make sure we have good representation from each school. We are looking for kids who really want to get involved and want to learn how to make good things happen. I would also offer that our members are willing to take positive risks and are learning to be more comfortable with speaking up and sharing their opinions.

How have your parents supported your participation so far?
Drake: My parents have been huge advocates and have encouraged me to take part in CGYA. They see the benefits and the leadership opportunities and have really encouraged my sister and me to engage in the program. My mom also reminds me of all our meetings and community outreach responsibilities.

How do you hope to grow in your leadership skills as a CG Youth Alliance Co-Chair?
Christina: I hope to grow as a leader and become a better role model for my peers. I look forward to learning how to guide groups to make informed decisions. I appreciate the opportunity to work alongside supportive adult mentors and our other young leaders in the group.