Paola de la Cruz transparent

Paola de la Cruz

Age: 19
Compton, CA
YWPL 2012

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Leadership Experience

During my first year at the University of California, Santa Barbra, I had the distinct experience of living off-campus in Isla Vista rather than in the residence halls. This experience allowed me to learn firsthand about the numerous issues in Isla Vista that directly affect student residents. After confronting multiple tenant-related problems, I decided to get involved in the community by joining the Isla Vista Community Development Corporation and becoming an Associated Students Senator. My involvement made me more and more passionate about the interface between student and non-student residents, and motivated me to continue fighting for community needs.

This past November, I ran for office and won. I ran for the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District Board of Directors to continue voicing the concerns and opinions of Isla Vista residents, specifically of our student and Latino residents. As a nineteen-year-old Latina student who comes from a low-income background, running for office was a challenging experience. Although I knew I was making the right decision, I was worried that I did not have the knowledge and skills necessary to run my own campaign. Despite this, I took the challenge and sought guidance from those who did. Running for office at such a young age will always be one of my proudest moments of leadership. My campaign helped me obtain many of the skills and confidence I now posses. However, until I see my community rise up, my position remains a reminder of the incremental changes that can be made through perseverance, determination, and hard work.

Running Start’s Impact

At a young age, Running Start helped me learn about the gender inequality that exists in politics. In turn, this inspired me to engage and create positive change in my local government. A few months after returning home from the program, I wrote a proclamation for my city, the city of Compton. Despite living in a developed country, I saw similar problems experienced by girls in underdeveloped countries as I did in my hometown. Young women in my community had serious problems like access to contraceptives and comprehensive reproductive health education, which limited their ability to protect their health and livelihoods.

With the help of YWPL peers and alumni, I helped raise awareness about the Girls’ Rights Day and these issues by writing an official proclamation. Moreover, on the last day of the program, someone asked me if I would run for office in the near future. “Of course I will,” I thought. However, I never imagined that I would be running for office two years later. At the age of 18, I filed to run for the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District Board of Directors in California.

Running Start not only inspired me to run for office but also helped me hit the political ground running. The workshops and seminars I participated in through Running Start taught me specific skills that were invaluable assets to my campaign. Running Start gave me the confidence I needed to not feel intimidated by being the only woman and only person of color running for this position—I had five male opponents.

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