Kickass Women of the Next Generation

These young women are shaping the next generation of leaders.

KICKASS: Adjective 1. Having a strong effect on someone; powerful
2. Exceptionally good; spectacular, impressive


The women in our third edition of this list live up to both definitions and then some.
We’re proud to call them neighbors, friends, and leaders in our community.


Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Julia Wang and Charis Wondercheck 

Cofounders, Empowering Youth in Activism

BONA FIDES: Wondercheck and Wang are high school track-and-field stars. They’re also both quick off the mark as youth leaders and organizers. Wondercheck, a hurdler at Pacifica Christian High School in Newport Beach, and Wang, a long- and triple-jumper at Marina High in Huntington Beach, met at the LEAP Squad Youth Track Club. They joined forces last year and formed EYA to help younger kids build self-confidence and learn to advocate for causes that are important to them. Together, they create and lead games, arts-and-crafts activities, and discussions to impress upon kids ages 7 to 12 that they can be leaders, too. Wang, who immigrated to Huntington Beach as a toddler, says she became reticent and self-conscious in her new environment. “I experienced a lot of discrimination without realizing it. When I was little, my friends would ask, ‘What’s my name in Chinese?’ or say random words and gibberish and ask what that meant. I was really shy. I was insecure about my differences.” Now she and Wondercheck take special care to ensure that shy youngsters feel part of the group. “It’s just getting to know their personalities and seeing who they are so you can cater to their emotions,” Wondercheck says.

IN HER WORDS: “We want to foster an environment, a community, where everyone helps each other and they know how their identity contributes to their community and they’re proud of it.”—Julia Wang 

IN HER WORDS: “Since we’re both people of color—Julia’s Asian and I’m Black and white—we were like, how can we get kids involved and confident as a person while having fun? We created EYA to show kids it’s OK to be confident, to speak your mind, to be who you are no matter the color of your skin or what your beliefs are.”—Charis Wondercheck


Tina Mai 

Orange County’s first youth poet laureate

BONA FIDES: Mai is 17, a senior at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, and headed to Stanford to study computer science and product design while minoring in creative writing. English is her third language; born in China, Mai grew up speaking Cantonese and Mandarin. An avid reader, the Newport Beach resident expressed her vivid imagination in childhood books that she wrote, printed, and stapled together. Her “I’m a Smart Dog” picture books convinced her parents to get her a puppy. She began writing poetry in middle school. When she was in 10th grade, the Atlanta Review published one of her poems as the winner of its Poetry International contest. She says she realized then, “I should keep doing this.” As youth poet laureate, she’s done multiple readings, collaborated with California’s other young laureates, and served as a judge for the spoken-word competition OC RYSE poetry slam. She’s been writing and designing a zine and is using her literary and tech skills to develop an app to help blind and visually impaired youth tell their stories. Mai hopes to lead a startup someday.

IN HER WORDS: “We’ve seen just how impactful poetry and youth as a whole can be—through Amanda Gorman and the national youth poet laureates who have been making waves. Our (2021) national youth poet laureate, she’s a current Stanford student. I’m most excited to see how creativity can impact our future and how art, such as poetry, can influence more change and inspire people. For me, I am really excited to be able to pursue both sides of my interests, to channel the creative and the technical sides.”


Jillian Albayati

Athlete; trailblazer

BONA FIDES: History was made last spring when Albayati, Anaheim High’s standout pitcher, became the first woman to start in a CIF-SS baseball championship game. She threw 100 pitches over nine innings, allowing only one run to get past her trademark fastball that often leaves batters looking. She packs a killer changeup and curveball, too. Albayati, who has an undefeated win-loss record, also played infield for Anaheim High School, hitting .351 with 17 RBIs. She was named the Orange League MVP, All-CIF, and made the Orange County all-star game. Oh, and she won a spot on the USA Baseball women’s team, which represents the U.S. internationally, and was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch from the hallowed Angels mound. Now Albayati is bringing her A-game to Cal State San Marcos women’s softball while continuing to play hardball for team USA. Next stop: the majors. She’s ready when you are, MLB. 

IN HER WORDS: “You need to really work hard. You’re facing a bunch of guys who will be bigger and stronger than you, so put in the time. Practice every day. Learn the game. Make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared for whatever happens. The important thing is to keep playing. Parents don’t like it when a girl strikes out their sons. You have to love the game too much to leave it.”  

Read More from our March 2023 Kickass Women Issue: