The first Youth Mentorship Gala was held at the Los Banos Community Center on July 23.

The event was the idea of TJ Wills, a 2018 graduate of El Capitan High School in Merced. He gathered his friends and family to create a venue whereby the youth of Los Banos could come together and listen to what people from many different walks of life had to say.

“The idea is to encourage the youth and lift them up and let them know that we stand behind them and help them see the possibilities they have in front of them,” Wills said.

About 150 youth and young adults from the community of Los Banos attended the gala. Keynote speakers included influential mentors from government, education, college, military, corporate, and small business sectors.

One of those speakers was Charles Kyles, a retired coach from California State University Fullerton, who spoke on the topic of a positive work ethic. He told the audience, “If you’re not working, you’re stealing.”

Irik Dobbins, a graduate of Buhach High School who played football for Fresno City College, said the road of life doesn’t always go the way you plan but to always stay focused and humble and never give up on your dreams.

Antonio Aaron and Angela Usher, owners of Tone and the Barber Doll hair salon business in Merced spoke about staying focused and to stay on course. Aaron said, “When life gets hard, persevere.”

He says he reminds himself of this by reading 2Corinthians 5-7 on a regular basis. Through their business partnership they have not only built a business, but also a friendship that has blossomed into love as they are now engaged to be married.

Los Banos High graduate, Christina Jones, is one of three sisters. She wanted to attend college but there wasn’t a lot of money. So she joined the United States Coast Guard and worked her way up to the rank of Commander, one of only a few African-American females to ever achieve that rank.

Though the military she was able to graduate from Clark Atlanta University Summa Cum Laude. She is the first in her immediate family to graduate from a four-year university and the first in her family to join the military.

She said, “Never lose focus. Your goals will change, but never give up on your dreams.”

She encouraged parents to enroll their children in as many activities as possible to keep them busy. The theme of this year’s gala was: Dream Big. Set Goals. Take Action. The master of ceremonies of the event was Keith Johnson. Wills will begin his senior year at Clark Atlanta University and majoring in Mass Media Art. He is on track to graduate Summa Cum Laude.