There are a lot of things high school seniors Joe and Polette agree on. They both believe in advocacy, student empowerment, and doing the right thing. What they can’t seem to agree on however, is which L.A. basketball team reigns supreme: the Lakers or the Clippers. But despite their differences, they’ve found common ground in their passion for social justice.

Joe and Polette met during a theater production in middle school before heading together to Hamilton High School. The duo were soon inseparable as they filled their schedules with sports, student government, and leadership through United Way’s Young Civic Leaders Program (YCLP) on the weekends.

YCLP is a leadership development program that empowers students to speak out on social justice and education issues, becoming catalysts for change as they advocate for the resources needed to prepare for college and sustainable careers.

Polette recalls her freshman year when she wasn’t that active in school and had yet to find her passion. But after attending a YCLP meeting, she soon learned advocacy and social justice was her calling.

“Going to the YCLP meetings helped me become aware of the educational landscape,” she said. “It taught me to put my ego and perception of self-importance to the side so that I can better advocate for students and what we need.”

Joe tagged along and also saw the program’s value when it came to sharing his voice.

“Outside of being a good student, YCLP has made me want to be a better person and change things for the better,” he said.

YCLP also helped them better navigate the sometimes murky waters of high school life, with United Way’s staff even becoming mentors in many ways. From coaching them through personal dilemmas to helping them with college essays and more, YCLP gives students access to another avenue for personal development and enrichment.

What’s next on the horizon for Joe and Polette? Both students are looking forward to receiving their college acceptance letters, their final few sessions as YCLP students, and of course, prom.

Learn more about the Young Civic Leaders Program here.