Avanza, meaning “to advance” or “move forward” in Spanish, is exactly what Anaheim Family YMCA and the Disneyland Resort are doing together in order to help high school students succeed in their future educational or professional goals. After receiving a grant from the Disneyland Resort in 2019, the YMCA developed the Avanza program to champion student success through resume building, networking and enhanced job interview skills.
“When we first started, it was addressing a need of a missing component that kids were not getting in other programming: working on confidence, communication, building those soft skills,” said Ann Trovada, operations director at “the Y,” who was one of the pioneers of the program. “Our goal was to have students start thinking about what the workforce is going to look like, and thinking about their futures.”
Approximately 5,000 students have successfully gone through the program since inception, and some have even been hired or volunteered at the YMCA afterwards with the skills that they acquired. From workshops facilitated by Disneyland Resort cast members, to virtual networking and one-on-one sessions during the pandemic, the Avanza program has made a tangible impact on students’ lives.
In 2019, Karissa Casas, then a junior at Anaheim High School, was looking for guidance on her college applications as she felt unsure about her abilities. She was also approached by her associated student body advisor to be the pep rally commissioner, which involved frequent public speaking in front of the entire school.
“The workshops helped us to present well and enunciate our words, [giving us] the confidence to talk in front of so many people,” said Karissa, who credits Avanza, who she credits with helping her gain more confidence to face these challenges. “I remember telling the supervisor [Jose Cruz, pictured above], I don’t know if I’m ready. And my supervisor said, ‘No, you got this!’ He was very encouraging and motivating.”
Karissa also started her own online boutique business during the pandemic, thanks to business skills learned from the Avanza program. Now a sophomore at University of California, Santa Barbara studying sociology, Karissa is grateful for Avanza preparing her to enter “the real world.”
Tracy Martindale, communications events manager at the Disneyland Resort, has been involved with YMCA since childhood, taking on various roles including camp counselor and helping coordinate the annual putting classic and gala. The dedication for this organization runs deep as Tracy shares a family legacy in which her dad, brother, late husband and daughter have all been active leaders.
“When I heard that the Disneyland Resort and the YMCA came together, I was excited to see my worlds connecting in a great way,” said Tracy. “I know the needs that “the Y” participants have, and how they could benefit from the knowledge and assistance Disney could share with them.”
Tracy notes the Disneyland Resort and YMCA share similar values, including service to the community. “During the pandemic, the YMCA continued to deliver meals to students who were in need. Through summer camps, after-school initiatives and the Avanza Program, the YMCA continues to make an impact in students’ lives, with the Disneyland Resort alongside, to support their incredible work.”