Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) was born out of the 2014 NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference Pre-Conference Leadership Institute in San Diego, California. Young Filipino American leaders came together and formed a coalition of student leaders, youth development organizations, and individuals passionate about youth empowerment.
EPYC leaders believe in the following values:
Ambition. We are bold when we act on our empowerment and strive for community-building in spaces that demand it.
Collaboration. We are collaborative when we strengthen intergenerational coalitions and allyship.
Empowerment. We give ourselves power when we promote knowledge-sharing, learning, skill-building, and dialogue on the regional and national level.
According to the U.S. Census, of the four million Filipinos living in the U.S., one-fourth (almost one million) are youth between the ages of 18 to 34. After conducting focus groups, NaFFAA found that Filipino youth interviewed lack the resources and skills needed for campus and non-profit leadership positions; face difficulty juggling personal, extracurricular, and academic priorities; and fail to continue remaining engaged after graduation due to burnout, lack of mentorship, or professional and familial responsibilities.
To address these issues, in the summer of 2017, NaFFAA launched its inaugural Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) Ambassadors Program to strengthen the personal and professional development of young Filipino Americans. The inaugural class consists of twelve ambassadors, mostly Filipino American college students and young professionals under the age of 30.
Hailing from across the country, the Ambassadors have engaged fellow young Filipino Americans by hosting events and participating in conferences, writing blogs and leveraging social media, and leading a capstone initiative called “My EPYC Project” focused around leadership development, civic engagement, or advocacy. They also attend monthly webinars to help develop their knowledge, attitudes, and skills in key areas.
“I couldn’t have imagined the likelihood to have the chance like this to be so empowered. But even more so now, what I do dare to be is Filipino American with ambition.”
“Be a part of something that you’re really passionate about, and do things that are out of your comfort zone. I promise you, you will learn so many different things about life, your community, and your dreams.” – Leilani Encarnacion
“It is my desire to give back, and to work so that those who come after me will have clearer and better avenues to make their lives greater. It takes a village to raise a man, and it is my prayer that I will be able to help raise it up even higher.”
– Miguel Guerrero
Meet Our Ambassadors
Leilani Encarnacion is an 18-year-old student who attends Temple University. She is going into her second year of college, and is majoring in Kinesiology. She is currently active in TUPAC (Temple University Philippine American Council), where she hopes to excel as an officer within the next year. In her college career, Leilani hopes to learn more Tagalog, take part in more student organizations, and be more involved with the Temple community. She was born and raised in Newtown Pennsylvania, and currently resides in Bensalem Pennsylvania. She graduated from Bensalem High School in 2016, where she was a part of the honor roll and the National Honor Society. Through the National Honor Society, she tutored students in elementary school who needed help in mathematics and science. She also volunteered several hours for Special Olympics Bucks County Pennsylvania from 2014 to 2016. She currently works at Famous Footwear as a sales associate. On her free time, Leilani likes to spend time with family and friends. She also enjoys singing and playing the guitar and piano. She is very excited to be involved with NAFFAA, and is ready to gain experience, empower others, and most importantly, learn more about the Filipino-American community.
Sariah Loy is a nineteen year old, soon to be twenty in October, Filipino-Chinese American student. She immigrated to the United States back in 2001 and was raised in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. During her attendance in Central High School, she took part in Global Youth United (GYU) where global issues were discussed weekly and the Philadelphia Diversity Conference (PDC) which held an annual conference in LaSalle University on a different topic each year. She is interested in learning a new language and wishes to experience different opportunities globally, so she is majoring in International Business at Temple University. Back in December 2016 she was able to fulfill part of this interest by assisting in teaching students at an English camp in Monterrey, Mexico through the International Youth Fellowship (IYF) and hopes to visit other countries in the near future. As she enters her sophomore year of her College career, she hopes to continue being a part of the Temple University Philippine American Council (TUPAC), Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), IYF, and to join other organizations such as the International Business Association (IBA). In addition, Sariah enjoys learning about film and media in her spare time.
Joe Malasa is a Filipino-American from Virginia Beach, studying as a third-year student at the University of Virginia. He is double majoring in Psychology and American Studies with a concentration in Asian American studies, investigating the relationship between racial identity and how people make their decisions. His biggest involvement at the university is acting as the President of the Organization of Young Filipino Americans which consists of 400 members consisting of both Filipinos and anyone interested in the culture. His priority is on the empowerment of Asian Americans in their identity and equipping communities with leadership tools pivotal for chartering new avenues for Filipinos. He would like to work on making Filipino ethnic studies more widespread on college campuses and adding more networking opportunities for young Filipino-Americans. He is most excited to learn about the roots of the Asian American identity while also networking with inspiring Filipino Americans around the country.
Nina Duller Cedro, 19, is currently a junior with senior-standing at Wayne State University in the Mike Ilitch School of Business in Detroit, Michigan. She is in the 5-year MBA Program with a double major in Marketing and Information Systems Management. Nina has been in the FILAMCCO Michigan community for over 10 years, starting at the PACCM (Pilipino American Community Center of Michigan) in Paaralang Filipino youth classes to becoming one of the Co-Youth Chairman, as well as a scholarship recipient, for the Council of Asian Pacific Americans (CAPA).
Nina is also part of the executive board for the Midwest Association of Filipino Americans (MAFA) as their Vice President External, where she oversees being the main liaison of communication between schools outside and under the MAFA Umbrella. Nina has become the youngest member in MAFA history to be voted onto the MAFA Executive Board, being only 18 years old when she was elected.
When she’s not in school or involved in the APIA Community, you can find Nina working as a product specialist with Tesla Motors, or at rehearsing with her competitive, urban hip-hop dance team – Next Level Dance Company.
Christian Paneda is a third-year undergraduate at the University of Michigan pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Community and Global Public Health with a minor in Asian Languages and Cultures (Filipino). Coming from the rural area of Adrian, Michigan, Christian is dedicated to serving the Filipinx American community, especially in the Midwest in addition to connecting back to the Philippines. Christian was previously the co-cultural chair of the Filipino American Student Association (FASA) at the University of Michigan, a volunteer at the university’s hospital, and research assistant for various research projects under the University of Michigan’s departments of English Literature and Language, Psychology, and Social Work. Currently, he is the co-president of FASA as well as a senior editor for Michigan in Color column at the Michigan Daily.
Christian is interested in diversity and social justice studies, especially in terms of public health and the Asian Pacific American community. He is also deeply invested in popular culture and its impact on Asian Pacific American youth. Outside of work and academics, Christian loves to cook, write, and talk about all things fashion as well as stationary. After his undergraduate education, Christian plans to attend law school to study international law.
A fifth-year at the University of Cincinnati, Carlo is pursuing a double major in Violin Performance and International Affairs. He has maintained active roles in the Vietnamese Student Association, both on his campus and throughout the region, as well as the Student Diversity and Inclusion Council. Through these experiences he has strived to promote and nurture inclusive spaces for AAPI students on his campus. Carlo hopes to bring together both of his degrees (the intersection of art and politics) to pursue a career in Asian American Cultural Programming, curation, or as a performing musician. He has previously interned with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (as part of OCA and CAPAL’s internship programs) and the Asian American Literary Review, as he believes that art and culture are integral means of activism, community building, and identity formation. His musical endeavors have allowed him the opportunity to perform at and attend music festivals across the US and in Japan.
Marijo is a current senior at the University of Washington studying Medical Anthropology and Global Health. She hopes to further her education in pursuit of a Master in Public Administration after graduation. Marijo is the current President of FASA sa UW, an organization who is celebrating its 100 Anniversary of being dedicated to providing educational, social, political and cultural programming to the greater Fil am Community. She has also worked with multiple grassroots organizations, advocating for Black Lives Matter, Immigration Rights and Equity in Education.
Erick Yanzon is a 4th year at Western Washington University. He is double majoring in Sociology and American Cultural Studies, with a minor in Education and Social Justice. Erick moved to Washington in 2010 from Manila, Philippines. He has been very active within the Filipino community through the Northwest Filipino American Student Alliance. He is also involved in student government on campus, and is currently serving as the Associated Students Vice President for Diversity. Erick hopes to continue his career in student affairs and help support students of color succeed in higher education.
A San Francisco native, Miguel Guerrero attended the University of California, Davis, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science. During his time there, he was greatly involved in its Fil-Am community and took part in its student organizations, including Chi Rho Omicron (XPO), a Pilipino interest fraternity. He later became involved in student government upon election to the Associated Students, University of California, Davis (ASUCD) as a senator, where he represented students at large, while keeping his community close at heart. Miguel also became involved with government at the state and local level while at UC Davis and after graduation. He had internships with Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, Speaker of the California State Assembly, Anthony Rendon, and the Mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee. He also served as a Career Transition Specialist for the Treasure Island Job Corps Center through the US Department of Labor in San Francisco, CA. In his position, he worked with students of the program, mainly economically disadvantaged youth in the San Francisco Bay Area, to obtain a job upon receiving a trade and vocational education. Currently, he works as a Field Representative and Caseworker in the District Office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. He aims to continue his development in public service while serving his community.
Kevin currently serves as NaFFAA’s EPYC (Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration) Ambassador in Region 8. Born and raised in San Jose, California, Kevin hopes that his work will not only provide mentorship opportunities for young Filipino Americans, but also give the local Filipino community a much-needed voice in our local, state and national affairs. From 2014-2015, Kevin served as Executive Vice President of De Anza College’s Student Government (DASB) Senate. He has also worked on several political campaigns in the Southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area and served as an intern for the City of San Jose City Council District 4. Besides his work with NaFFAA, Kevin also serves with L.E.A.D. Filipino as their Naturalization Ceremonies and Volunteer Organizer. Outside of his community work, Kevin serves as a Junior Analyst with the Silicon Valley Aggressive Growth Fund, a student-managed growth fund supported by SJSU’s Lucas College of Business. A proud community college student transfer, Kevin currently attends San Jose State University, where he is working towards a B.S. in Economics. Outside of his professional and academic career, Kevin enjoys music, tennis, and developing his skills in Filipino Martial Arts.
Raphael Noah Olea Natividad graduated from the University of California, Irvine in June 2017, with a B.A. in Public Health Policy and Education Sciences. He was born and lived in the Philippines for most of his childhood in Morong, Rizal. However for the last 13 years, Southern California has been his home. As early as he remembers, when he moved to the United States, he was ashamed to identify as Filipino. He didn’t embrace his identity, because public knowledge of the Philippines was scarce. The lack of Filipino representation in American film, media, and history courses, made him feel like an outsider. Thankfully during his first year in college he joined Kababayan at UCI, a Pilipinx-American student organization where he was able to gain a deeper appreciation for his Filipino culture and heritage throughout his undergraduate career. He served as a Kasama Family Kuya and Mentor for underclassmen, and as the Coordinator for the 38th annual Pilipinx-American Culture Night.
Currently, he works part-time in a software company in Irvine, and as research assistant at UCI for the School of Education. He is also involved as a staff member for the Lakas Mentorship Program which serves to mentor Pilipinx-American high school students based in Southern California. In the future, Raphael hopes to pursue a Masters in Public Health with a specialization in Community Health and to focus his efforts on the Asian-American community.
Justin Suarez is a rising second year at University of California, Los Angeles with his major being undeclared social science. While going to school in Los Angeles, Justin calls Santa Maria, California his hometown, a town located in between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. During the fall of his first year, he started becoming politically active in Pilipinx spaces when he originally joined UCLA’s undergraduate Pilipinx organization, Samahang Pilipino. Justin has gone from being an intern in various Samahang spaces to being appointed the Youth Component Coordinator. Being YCC for Samahang Pilipino’s board during Winter and Spring Quarters, Justin’s main task was to put together a youth conference, Samahang Pilipino’s Youth Empowerment Day. Although Justin is not taking a leadership position in Samahang this year, Justin is heavily involved in other activist spaces such as Student Activist Project, Queer Alliance, and conferences through the External Vice President’s Office. In addition to being involved in student organizations, Justin spends his time pursuing different hobbies like swimming, video editing, and photo editing. Justin thoroughly enjoys memes about adorable animals and wholesome jokes. If one needs to locate him, they would only need to listen for his infamous laugh, almost like echolocation.