Youth leadership program invests in Sonoma County students

The program, which heads into its second year in September, includes coaching sessions and mentorship opportunities with organizers who have a track record of furthering their causes in the community.|

Addison Pickrell, a senior at Rohnert Park’s Technology High School, has seen his fair share of stress these past few years.

The reoccurring wildfires that have struck Sonoma County and nearby areas since 2017 have forced him and his family to make frequent evacuations from his northeast Santa Rosa home, he said.

The coronavirus pandemic also has had a negative impact on him and other students, as distanced learning has resulted in a loss of the social interactions that typically define one’s high school experience, he added.

“I’ve had my own struggles with mental health and I’ve seen an environment where a lot of students I know are struggling with that too,” Pickrell said.

It’s stories like his that inspired Dr. Daniela Dominguez, a local psychologist, to start ¡DALE!, a youth program that trains Sonoma County high school students to be leaders in their schools through educational justice projects.

The program, which heads into its second year in September, includes coaching sessions and mentorship opportunities with organizers who have a track record of furthering their causes in the community, Dominguez said.

Awardees are given a $1,000 stipend for their participation as well as transportation assistance so they can attend monthly meetings. The educational justice projects are done in teams, which are given an additional $1,000 to mobilize their work.

The focus of last year’s projects ranged from free access to menstrual products on campus to establishing ethnic studies courses at Roseland University Prep High School in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, Dominguez said. Pickrell was among the students who participated in the first year of the program.

“What we are trying to create is a pipeline of youth organizers,” Dominguez said. “Rather than feeling that these systems are entrenched ... they learn that creating small cracks within their schools to interrogate inequities, that leads to some rich conversations between team members and their classmates.”

Dominguez’s work with a group of students in the Sonoma Valley last year was part of the inspiration for the ¡DALE! program, she said.

The group met with Dominguez at Sonoma’s Hanna Institute in a different program designed to build connections between high school-aged teens and reduce the social isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants included students who were undocumented and living in rural areas, she said.

A conversation with Montserrat Archila, a Providence St. Joseph employee who at the time was working with youth in Healdsburg, made the woman realize youth in both communities were facing similar challenges, Dominguez said.

“We were hearing about the digital divide and also just concerns about loneliness, social isolation, feeling really overwhelmed, anxiety and some symptoms of depression,” Dominguez said. “They were opening up and speaking up ... and they just needed a space to say what was in their hearts and what was on their minds.”

Pickrell, the Technology High School student, learned about the youth leadership program from a poster he saw on campus last school year, he said. He was intrigued by the opportunity to participate in student activism and decided to apply.

He and three other students at Technology High who were in the ¡DALE! program recognized a need for additional mental health support at their school and decided to make it the focus of their project, Pickrell said.

As the groups worked on their projects, they attended monthly meetings that included lessons on how to promote their ideas, as well as advice and insights from guest speakers such as Bettina L. Love, an author and a pioneer in establishing abolitionist teaching in schools.

“We just had a lot of different speakers talking to us about their journeys and supporting us, getting us to feel validated in ourselves and our ability (to enact change),” Pickrell said.

Addison and his team contacted the Sonoma County Office of Education about the need for additional mental health support at his campus, he said. In response, the office saw an opportunity to direct funding from a state grant for social emotional learning ― an educational method that integrates interpersonal and emotional skills into school curricula ― to Technology High School, Addison said.

That funding now pays for a weekly, 35-minute program in which all students on campus work on their social emotional learning skills with a teacher, Technology High School Principal Michelle Spencer said.

Though an agreement between the school and the Sonoma County Office of Education to finalize the exact dollar amount for the program is pending, Technology High School expects to be able to run the program for the next two years, Spencer added.

In addition to the changes each group made on local schools, the program also helped boost the confidence of those who participated, Addison said.

“We had a lot of discussions and deep conversations that allowed us to be more open with our team,” Addison said. “The mentorship provided to us this opportunity to get to explore ourselves and sort of explore how we see ourselves in the future as leaders.”

On The Margins, a coaching and therapy business that works with marginalized communities, which Dominguez founded, is overseeing the ¡DALE! program.

A $250,000 grant from the Community Foundation Sonoma County with additional funding from Providence Health is paying for the program, Dominguez said.

Applications for the second year of the program are open through Aug. 31. More information is available at

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   


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