Young Women Leaders Club looking to recruit more participants

By Kelly Barbazette

It’s always inspiring to witness young people step up to leadership roles to help affect change. I recently had the pleasure to speak via Zoom to two Morgan Hill high school students who are working to equip young women in their communities with key leadership skills.

Ishq Kandhra, 14, and Kaylyn Nguyen, 16, are members of Young Women Leaders, a group created under the mentorship of the Morgan Hill branch of the American Association of University Women. The group launched after a 2017 networking conference for South County high school girls, created by two young women from T.J. Owens Gilroy Early College Academy or GECA.

The AAUW Morgan Hill branch’s members who attended the 2017 conference were so impressed that they offered to help plan a larger event the next year, one that would include young women from all the local high schools in the planning. Since then, AAUW has mentored the student leaders in planning and executing an annual conference for students, by students. The group renamed itself Young Women Leaders in 2020.

The most recent youth leadership conference, held in April 2023 at Central High School in Morgan Hill, featured workshops on leadership, college applications, women’s rights, and climate activism.

“You really feel like you’re making a direct impact on the community. And that’s what we strive for as a group,” said Kandhra, a sophomore at Ann Sobrato High School.

She said it was empowering to see the conference come to fruition after some guidance from their AAUW advisors, who allowed them to hammer out all the details of the planning process.

“One thing that I really think is amazing is we ran it as teenagers,” she said.

The group invited young women in middle school and high school from Morgan Hill, San Jose, San Martin, and Gilroy to the conference. It was made up of student-run workshops and talks from professionals of various fields that focused on social justice issues, women’s rights issues, and leadership skills. More than 20 students attended the conference.

Nguyen, a junior at Sobrato, felt excited to watch the conference attendees come together to exchange ideas and contact information before the end of the day.

“It became really powerful, and it created a kind of community,” she said.

She discovered the club after seeking to get further involved in her community and has since developed leadership and management skills she passes along to other young people.

“To give back and encourage other people to be a leader in the community is really important to me,” she said.

Nguyen appreciates the variety of backgrounds and experiences of its members.

“To hear viewpoints about different issues is super enlightening,” Kandhra agreed.

Kandhra found out about Young Women Leaders from her older sister, who had been a member.

“It’s an amazing club,” she said. “It allows me to see how I, as a young woman, can be a great leader and inspire other young women and how I can help my community in a very homey and easy way.”

Young Women Leaders is made up of about 12 members, who have plans to expand the group.

“Our goal is 20 (members). Even if we get close to that, we’ll be happy,” Kandhra said.

They plan to communicate with conference goers about upcoming meetings and spread the word about casual recruitment events they plan to host to enable local students to learn more about the group.

Students are looking to join clubs to boost their college applications, Nguyen said. “And later you find out you’re in because you love it, and you want to inspire other people,” as was her experience.

She’s interested in studying biomedical or mechanical engineering at a four-year college. She looks forward to bringing the leadership experience she has gained as a member of the Young Women Leaders.

“This club has taught me that I can create my own future,” she said.

Similarly, Kandhra wants to use her newfound leadership experience when she studies business in college and ultimately opens her own chain of restaurants.

Asked what advice they would give to other young women pursuing their goals, Kandhra recommends not being afraid to try new things, which she said is advice that her mother and sister have given her.

“Find something that interests you, even if it’s not a leadership role,” she said.

Nguyen said she has learned to pivot when plans and circumstances change.

“You kind of have to make the best with what you have,” she said.

“Putting ourselves out there and trying new things is what led us to the Young Women Leaders,” Kandhra said.

Kelly Barbazette, a former journalist for Bay Area newspapers, is a freelance writer. She lives in Gilroy with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at [email protected].