At age 17, Crescent City resident Avi Critz has an impressive resume of community leadership and accomplishments that include being an advocate for LGBTQ youth, organizing a high school student walkout to protest gun violence, and addressing environmental issues.
Critz’s efforts caught the attention of The California Endowment (TCE), which recognized him and 16 other youth across the state during the first ever TCE Youth Awards in Los Angeles on Oct. 20. Critz was one of 14 youth to receive the “Community Champions Award” — and $3,000. A total of 181 youth were nominated for the award.
“It was such an honor to be recognized because there are so many amazing people in our communities doing good work,” said Critz, who received the red-carpet treatment during the award ceremony. “It was the best experience of my life!”
TCE is a private, statewide health foundation with a mission to build a stronger state by expanding access to affordable, quality health care to underserved communities and improving the overall health of all Californians. It funds 14 Building Healthy Communities (BHC) sites in California, including one in Del Norte County and Tribal Lands.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to celebrate Avi’s hard work,” said Michelle Carrillo, director of Wild Rivers Community Foundations’ BHC Initiative. “Avi is part of a movement of young leaders making Del Norte and Tribal Lands a better place, empowering other youth to get involved in organizing and community engagement.”
Since coming out four years ago, Critz has become a community advocate for LGBTQ youth using organizing, public speaking, video, radio and mentoring as tools for change. He was a founding member of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Del Norte High School that meets to discuss the wide array of gender issues that students face. The GSA has been putting on the Gay Prom for the past two years which has been an extremely successful event where all couples feel welcome and free to have fun.
With Critz’s leadership, the GSA also organized a school walk-out that took place on April 20 to protest gun violence and advocate for restorative practices and inclusive policies in Del Norte schools. During this march, Critz gave an extremely galvanizing speech that highlighted the experiences of youth and the fears and frustrations that students live with in this era of rising school shootings.
“I just try to do what I can to make my community a better place. I really wasn’t looking for recognition, but this award validates all the hard work I’ve been doing,” Critz said. “It was also nice to meet with other youth organizers at the ceremony and brainstorm ideas, some of which I hope to implement in Del Norte County.”
Critz has been a contributing member of the summer Youth Training Academy hosted by Del Norte’s Building Healthy Communities. One of his projects successfully ended the use of Styrofoam food trays in schools. He is also a member of BHC’s newly formed “Youth Strategy Council,” which is already planning next year’s Youth Training Academy, and has partnered with BHC and True North Organizing Network as part of an emerging group of students, parents and community members called “Whose Schools? Our Schools!” The group is dedicated to helping the public learn more about their rights within the education system and the power that they have to make positive change in school policies and funding.
“Since the inception of The California Endowment, young change-makers have been essential in organizing communities across California toward improved health outcomes,” said Dr. Robert K. Ross, president of TCE. “They fight for safety in their schools, healthy food in their stores, and clean air in their neighborhoods. By now, the adage is almost a cliché. Our young people are not just leaders of tomorrow; they are our most powerful transformative leaders of today.”