Front Line Leaders Academy Prepares Young People to Become Political Leaders

By Adriana Maestas

FONT LINE LEADERS ACADEMY-2015-16Every year the Young Elected Officials Network (YEO) and Young People For (YP4) offer the Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA), a leadership development program that provides 20 talented young people who are interested in greater civic participation an opportunity to learn what it takes to run political campaigns or even run for office. This six-month fellowship has existed for the past ten years, but only offered in LA County for the past two years.

During the course of those six months, FLLA participants meet during four weekends and are trained on political skills useful in campaigns. The program starts with what it means to be a candidate and then works through the roles of campaign manager, finance director, communications director, and a field organizer.

“We look for applicants who are 18-35 and who have an interest in civic engagement,” said Karen Schillinger, Coordinator of Advanced Leadership for the Young Elected Officials Network. “We are particularly looking for young people who want to create a new political system that is more truly representative of the population and that gives a voice to marginalized communities.”

Two of the FLLA alumni shared their experiences with the program with the Latino Policy Connection.

AlcanTarElizabeth Alcantar is a 23-year-old recent graduate of California State University, Long Beach. She had been working for Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis before as a field deputy when she entered the FLLA program in the fall. She just completed the program this spring.

“I am a field rep in an area where I have lived my whole life. My family and friends are here, and working in this area is important for me. My mom and my neighbors can go to the events that I help organize, and so working in this area and for the Supervisor is very personal for me,” said Alcantar, a resident of Cudahy.

Alcantar said that the FLLA program was instrumental to her understanding how to approach her field assignment for Supervisor Solis.

ALCANTAR and Solis-2Alcantar says an incident involving her father before she started working for Solis, helped her understand the impact a policymaker can have on people’s lives. She says her father was involved in a wage theft claim with his employer – a claim the family struggled to resolve. When Supervisor Solis was serving as the Secretary of Labor in President Obama’s first term, wage theft was a critical issue Solis confronted. Alcantar says because of that, her father eventually received payment for his labor.

“I like to share this story about my boss and my father’s work because it shows how impactful union members can be when they have advocates like Supervisor Solis,” Alcantar said.

MARALMaral Karaccusian, a 34-year old Los Angeles area native, is currently the district director for Congresswoman Karen Bass. She was in her current position when she entered the FLLA program.

“The FLLA program was a good six month process where you are meeting people who you know will be future elected officials. So part of being in this program was networking and learning the language of politics. This was key for me because by training, I’m a social worker, so I wasn’t completely fluent in the language of politics,” Karaccusian explained.

Karaccusian says she transitioned into politics from being a social worker so she could advocate on behalf of children in the foster care system. She witnessed up close how public policy impacts children and decided that she would like to have a greater impact on a macro level.

Karaccusian said that Congresswoman Bass has always been a champion for foster youth, so she found a mentor. She started working for the Congresswoman as a case manager and was promoted to deputy district director and then district director over the course of three and a half years.

“I have not ruled out running for office, but I want to do the work in the community and have the community get to know me for my work before throwing myself out there,” Karaccusian said.

To learn more about the program, visit

Adriana 0814Adriana Maestas is a Southern California based writer and educator.