Youth Speakers

Ashok Kothamasu hails from Saint Louis, Missouri and graduated from Parkway South High School in Ballwin, Missouri in 2023. Ashok’s journey into the realm of prevention commenced during his sophomore year of high school, sparked by a compelling exploration into rural disparities in overdose rates across Missouri. This pivotal experience set him on a trajectory of profound engagement, as he dedicated his efforts to serving on local prevention boards ranging from Prevent+Ed to the Alliance of Healthy Communities.

Ashok’s influence transcends local borders, as evidenced by his impactful contributions on a statewide level through Act Missouri. A notable milestone includes orchestrating a dynamic workshop aimed at empowering fellow students in the creation of insightful capstone projects. Throughout his journey, Ashok’s dedication to prevention has unveiled a nuanced understanding of the dynamic intersection between policy and science.

Ashok’s multifaceted passion for prevention is exemplified through a creative lens, utilizing film to craft a compelling PSA on vaping prevention through the Centene Institute. This unique approach underscores his commitment to influencing change through innovative mediums. His future in medical school holds the promise of integrating his fervor for prevention with his comprehensive understanding of addiction, ensuring a holistic and impactful standard of care.

Furthermore, Ashok’s dedication is underscored by his role as a mentor in the SAMHSA HOSA project and a National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) member. This platform has enabled them to effectively lobby and advocate for the prevention community on both local and national fronts. In collaboration with his HOSA mentee, he played a pivotal role in expanding mental health awareness within Missouri. Notably, Ashok’s creation of a peer-to-peer drug-refusal skill education program within his school district serves as a testament to his resolute dedication to the prevention field. This initiative not only underscores his commitment to prevention but also his tangible impact on the ground, further solidifying his unwavering passion and potential within the prevention landscape.

Looking ahead, Ashok’s aspirations remain steadfast as he embarks on a medical education journey at the University of Missouri – Kansas. His fervent commitment to prevention will undoubtedly infuse his medical practice, seamlessly integrating his multifaceted passion into his approach to addiction and healthcare.

Silema Garcia is a dedicated CADCA Youth TOT from Ketchikan, Alaska. At 17 years old, Silema is excited about her senior year of high school and the opportunities to further invest in her community. She is a youth member of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition, where she actively contributes to fostering positive change. Her involvement extends to the Ketchikan Youth for Change, which is a branch of the coalition that engages in impactful endeavors spanning from prevention initiatives, aiding the homeless, and advocating for mental health awareness and substance use education. Silema’s commitment to progress in her local community includes her involvement in several youth serving organizations, including SeaLevel. She is one of the founding youth representatives of SeaLevel, which is the first ever youth dedicated space in her hometown. Inspired by her own remarkable family, Silema’s passion for prevention work is unmistakable. She is the proud sister of 85 siblings, as a result of her parents’ noble fostering efforts. Her siblings have served as witnesses to highlight the diverse experiences in life. Silema has celebrated joyous milestones with her family, and also witnessed challenges such as the impact of fentanyl withdrawals on her infant sister. Silema’s siblings serve as her mentors, especially her three-year-old sister who continues to display positivity in the face of adversity. Silema often recalls the radiant smile on her baby sister’s face and is reminded of her “why” in prevention work.