Youth Opportunity Ambassador Yessica Pineda values mentorship because of the positive impact it's had on her life.

“One of the biggest challenges for me initially going into college was being a first-generation student. As much as my parents wanted to help me, there were barriers. I was lucky enough to have mentors who really guided me. I knew from there that as much as someone gave me, I want to give that knowledge to other people as well, so my community can continue to excel,” she says.

If we can get more people giving back to their communities through mentorship, things would be better. You can grow the community through mentorship and provide what the system isn’t.

As a senior in college, Yessica is paying it forward on and off campus. Through her university’s Honors Affinity program, Yessica mentors freshmen and transfer Latinx students. She recalls being the only person of color in some of her classes and hopes that being a mentor for Latinx students who are new to campus will help make their college experience less isolating. "You always appreciate seeing someone who looks like you,” Yessica says. Off campus, she pays it forward as a program assistant at a non-profit organization that strives to improve the South Chicago neighborhood she grew up in. Yessica spends her time at the non-profit providing gift cards for food aid, school supplies, and wellness sessions for those who need it.

What keeps Yessica motivated? The need for systemic change. Yessica hopes that one day fewer people, including members of the Latinx community, will have to navigate the same barriers she did.

“If we can get more people giving back to their communities through mentorship, things would be better. You can grow the community through mentorship and provide what the system isn’t.”

Yessica’s experience as a Youth Opportunity Ambassador has given her valuable insight into the power of mentoring and the importance of resource access. She’s learned advocacy tools through her involvement with the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and finds it impressive that IYF empowers underserved students by creating space to discuss issues and collaborate as a group. She plans to incorporate the skills and connections she’s gained through the Youth Opportunity Ambassador Program into her mentorship work moving forward.

According to Yessica, mentorship is social justice work at its core. It’s an opportunity to provide underserved communities with resources they might not otherwise be exposed to. Yessica admits that we have a long way to go before we achieve true equity, when all communities have the basic resources needed to thrive. But she’s inspired by the progress young people have made in the last few years.

It’s about the quality, not the quantity of your impact. In other words, starting small is better than not starting at all.

“It was awesome seeing people come from all over and from different backgrounds during the Black Lives Matter protests. You saw people rallying despite their immigration status and putting it all on the line for what’s right. It was inspiring to see the amount of noise we could create.”

Moments like this and the smile that crosses a mentee’s face when she’s volunteering in South Chicago, are what make mentorship and social justice work worth it for Yessica. She encourages her peers to get involved in giving back too and reminds those who might be intimidated by the scope of work that “it’s about the quality, not the quantity of your impact.” In other words, starting small is better than not starting at all.

“I’m passionate about mentorship,” Yessica says. We might have a long way to go to correct systemic injustice, but one thing’s for sure: thanks to young people like Yessica, we’re certainly taking steps in the right direction.

Learn more about the Youth Opportunity pre-employment initiative and the partnership between IYF and McDonald's.