Courtney Aubain is a young changemaker on the rise. As a part of the second cohort of our Participatory Budgeting Youth Fellowship (PBYF), Courtney worked in the office of New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres (EL 2004) during the 2018-19 school year. “I spoke with district residents to collect and flesh out their ideas for community improvements and help them understand how they can have a bigger role in participatory democracy,” she explains. “It was inspiring.”

Now a senior at Pelham Lab High School in the Bronx, Courtney is one of two PBYF alumni serving as a Senior Youth Fellows, mentoring our new cohort members.

Q. How has your experience in Coro’s PBYF program inspired you to continue engaging with problems in your community?

Courtney: Segregation in public schools is a big problem in New York City and it impacts young people. I’m advocating for change and developing solutions through an internship I have with IntegrateNYC, an organization where students come together to bring integration and equity to schools. If it wasn’t for Coro, I wouldn’t be doing this. Coro made me realize that I have a voice that can be powerful, and if I don’t use that power, I’m not taking control of my future. Coro showed me that I don’t need to wait to be an adult to have a voice—I’ve had one all along.

Q. How has Coro’s PBYF program influenced your academic and career plans?

Courtney: When I started PBYF, I wanted to major in Osteopathy in college and then go to medical school to become an anesthesiologist.  That changed when I was working in Ritchie Torres’ office. I savored every minute of the community engagement work we did, and I loved the feeling of making my community better. Ritchie’s participatory budgeting coordinator Nanette Alvarado told me, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Now I want to study environmental policy, and I want to take on the challenges caused by climate change that my generation is going to face.

Q. Why did you decide to come back to Coro to work as a Senior Youth Fellow?

Courtney: I wanted to help make the next cohort’s experience even better than mine. I was able to do that during their three-week summer leadership institute. I helped write the curriculum, facilitate discussions, and offer advice based on my own experiences in the program and as an alum. I also wanted to be a voice for the Bronx, to create more understanding of people who aren’t from Manhattan.  

Q. What advice do you have for other young people who want to make changes in their community?

Courtney: Anyone can lead. Leaders aren’t just the people who are standing in front of a big group of people, leading a rally. Leaders are people who stand up for others. Learn what leadership qualities you have and then develop an understanding of how you can use those qualities to help others. That’s what’s great about PBYF. It’s not just about government and politics; it also shows teens how getting engaged in civic change can affect the rest of your life and your community.

Q. What was the most surprising thing you learned in PBYF?

Courtney: A lot of young people have a negative view of government, based on what we see in the news. But in PBYF, we got to learn about the City Council and saw that government on the local level really solves problems, big and small, that affect real people in our communities. It’s powerful. I think it made a lot of us less cynical and more inspired to get involved now and in the future.