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CalCenter  Story 

The California Center for Civic Participation (CalCenter), established in 1981, originally served as the non-profit host for the widely respected California Journal Magazine, a non-partisan publication dealing with state politics. In the early 80’s, Executive Director James Muldavin steered the focus of the organization toward programs to support young people in learning about, responding to, and acting in the political process.


The first of these was Capitol Focus, our flagship education program which began in 1981 and ran for 29 years. Over these years, our Civic Education programs have taken many forms. We structure our Civic Education programs to provide youth with an opportunity to engage in a practical, meaningful way, with politics and policy that shape their world. These programs still embody an ideal that has inspired our work from the beginning:
to inform and excite young people about participating in the democratic process


In the mid-90s, CalCenter began developing programs to prepare young people to take a leadership role in public policy. This approach offers long-term support to youth as they identify and tackle challenges in their own communities, then work with peers and adults to affect changes. Today our policy leadership programs continue to address topics which directly affect the lives of young people, including adolescent health and planning for a sustainable future.


Over the past couple of decades, we have strengthened relationships with key policy makers, community and corporate sponsors, and change makers throughout the state to elevate our work and the voice of California teens. The quality of our programs and our withstanding longevity has made us a trusted partner in the field. We have collaborated with other youth-driven organizations and foundations to support thousands of youth across the state in programs focused on environmental sustainability, access to healthy foods, mental health, obesity prevention and equal access to healthcare. Using a holistic approach, youth get an experience that gives them the space to dissect complex policy issues in a creative and fun way, which bring these concepts to life. When youth are able to truly understand these issues, it demystifies and humanizes the political process and empowers them to create pathways to change.             


Today we continue to evolve by refining our methods and responding to the changing needs and interests of the young people we serve. We believe that we have a duty to educate youth about policies, perspectives and current events that need to be brought to their attention, but also feel that youth should have a say on the issues they want to explore. Together, we have been able to bring awareness and power to young people as they enter adulthood. Participants walk away from our programs with increased communication skills and greater confidence and motivation to ensure their voice, and the voices of others, are heard. 


In the next chapter of our story, we intend to harness our robust and impactful history as we move forward creating even more opportunities for youth to have a seat at the table, whenever decisions are being made. We invite community partners, alumni and youth allies from across the state to collaborate with us to ensure that youth are made a priority in all aspects of our society. Our programs will remain consistent, embracing our values of non-partisanship, unity, inclusion, diversity, integrity and connection.  These values have always been the bedrock of everything we do and we will continue to stay true to them in the years to come.  


Here’s to another four decades of successful youth leadership development and another 30,000-youth served! 


Click here to view and download an evaluation report of the CalCenter conducted by consultant, Shiree Teng. This report details the impact we have had over our 38-year history and provides crucial feedback from partners, long time sponsors and alumni of our programs.


I remember us all going out to dinner together. They knew all our names. That connection, not all programs take the time to learn about people outside of the actual program...and you really stay close. From that program you don’t just walk away, you maintain a relationship between the CalCenter and you.

- Program Participant

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