GONZALES, Calif. -

Two incoming Gonzales High School seniors are the first students to participate in a new initiative launched by the city to promote youth leadership development.

Project Y.E.S. WE CAN! (Youth Empowered via Service While Engaging Community Action Networks) was launched to engage youth as "valued
and active partners in devising solutions for how government, schools and community can do more to help kids succeed and keep them from participating in gangs and other risky behaviors.

Beginning July 7, Yesenia Camacho and Jeffrey Alvarez have been learning about how city government works and gaining their first employment experience through the project's summer internship component.

"One of my favorite experiences so far has been my Police Department ride-along with Officer Sollis," said Camacho.  "I feel like police get regarded as being somewhat of an evil villain, nuisance. People get upset when they are corrected about ways they drive and so when a police officer pulls them over to tell them their error they start to become annoyed by them. People don’t really see all the positive that police officers do -only the negative."

Their summer internship ends Tuesday, Aug. 12, but the two students will continue to serve as youth commissioners on the Gonzales City Council and as formal advisors to the Gonzales Unified School District during the coming school year.

The two will be presenting what their learning from their summer internships, including ideas gleaned from the experience, to the Gonzales City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

The program is funded by the Monterey County Office of Education.