Emilio is our Health Leader Award Winner this year! He’s changing the way schools and young people approach health and teen relationships. He started a youth wellness team in his school to draw attention to the issue of teen dating violence and is now leading trainings and motivating his peers around the city to do the same. Come meet him at our Spring Benefit! 

Emilio AraujoHow did you get involved with Mikva Challenge?

I heard about Mikva Challenge from some of my older friends in school who had been through the program and loved it. I was also president of the Social Justice League Club at my school and was a student judge with Mikva Challenge.

A while later I found out about the Mikva Summer Councils and it just seemed like the perfect step for me to go from mostly talking about policy and being centered around my school community to actually making change and moving outside my school to connect with other passionate youth. The opportunities that actually came up with our own ideas were amazing! Meeting decision makers and seeing change happen felt unreal at first, but it really was such genuine and powerful experience.

Was there a moment or time, you felt inspired to act and be a leader?

We had a Mass Action Day over the summer last year, when all the youth gave impromptu soapbox speeches and ran around downtown having tons of fun while sharing our own opinions and bringing out youth voice. It was crazy because I don’t usually have these kind of epiphany moments, but right there that day I hadn’t prepared anything so I thought I didn’t want to get up and speak, but just spur of the moment, I had an idea and I got up and did it. I felt so powerful because I had decided to use my voice. It’s something I always look back on as a sort of turning point for me. Since that day I feel like I unlocked the voice that was always inside me, definitely a moment of change.

Tell us about the work you’ve done around teen health?

Since last year, we’ve collected a lot of data from youth regarding their health, and based on those results, we’ve come up with a lot of recommendations to improve mental, emotional and physical health of youth in Chicago. Healthy relationships is a big area we’re working on.  Recently we worked to help get the amindonhealth.com website available which is an amazing resource for young people to know their rights for receiving counseling and other mental health benefits. We’ve also partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health to launch the  Chicago Wears Condoms campaign, which has been a massive project to encourage safe sex and STD prevention. For that project we’ve worked a lot this year on the implementation stage, like on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day the Teen Health Council split up at different trains around the city, handed out condoms and information, and brought more of a spotlight to the issues of STDs and Teen Pregnancy.

What’s your dream for the future?

I have no idea what I want to do in the future. But for the more near (and the extra far) future I know that I will continue to take the lessons I’ve learned at Mikva through my everyday life. The knowledge of the importance of being an up stander, of using my own voice, and of amplifying others are all some of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned and I will never forget them.