City’s Youth Leadership Academy class recognized and encouraged by Mayor

CAYLA 2019 group
At Asheville High School-Marvin Pearson, Sheila Bautista Perez, Zaria Bunn, Ruthee Jester, Jaihlen Harper — all CAYLA graduating seniors bound for college this fall .



Going to college, getting guidance on how to get there and intern experience along the way form key components of the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy, also known as CAYLA.

At City Council’s April 23 meeting, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer recognized the 38 CAYLA participants from this year’s class. It’s a proud moment for these high school students — and their families. Most of the participants will be the first in their family to attend college.

“Since its creation in 2007, the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy has prepared Asheville’s youth for future employment,” said Mayor Manheimer. “The program focuses on leveraging relationships with nonprofit agencies, businesses and the community to provide meaningful, career-oriented internships for students.”

More than 225 students have participated in the program since its inception. Colleges this year’s class have been accepted to attend include UNC Asheville, Appalachian State, North Carolina A&T, Western Carolina University, Elon University, Guilford College, Barton College and Wellesley College.

This year’s CAYLA theme was Racial Equity with topics and speakers from the community. During the school year, CAYLA students met monthly on Saturdays to continue to learn from speakers, including Cortina Caldwell, Marta Alcala Williams, Tracey Green Washington, DeWayne Barton and Julio Tordoya. They also heard from CAYLA alumni who are currently attending college.

The students created clubs to address the barriers faced by students of color, mentored middle school students, organized food drives that simultaneously addressed health disparities, and spoke out about the achievement gap.

Eighty-two percent of CAYLA alumni have graduated from college or are on track to graduate. About a dozen CAYLA alumni are in graduate programs earning law, social work, public health, accounting, recreational therapy and business degrees.

CAYLA has now expanded to incorporate a CAYLA Fellowship program for alumni who want to return to Asheville to start their careers. You can read more about that on the City’s employment webpage — it’s called the CAYLA Community Partner Assistant.

“Long-term, we hope to encourage our talented young people to return to Asheville after college, while inciting their passion to contribute to our entire community,” Mayor Manheimer said. “To support this goal, the City has now developed a three-month fellowship program intended for CAYLA alumni who have earned a college degree, and come back to town to launch their career.”

Workforce Development Programs Coordinator Erika Germer heads up the CAYLA program for the City. For more information, contact her at or 828-271-6116. Or visit the CAYLA webpage on the City of Asheville website.