Deja Villanueva began working for Communities for a New California Education Fund (CNCEF) in 2015 as a neighborhood canvasser and phone banker in Merced. She spoke to local residents about the issues they cared about and helped them link their issues of importance to their communities and families.
In December of 2017, due to her organizing experience at CNCEF, Deja was selected to join the Sperling Fellowship program, which was intended to empower dedicated activists to manage effective grassroots campaigns. There, she learned the foundation of progressive community organizing principles from notable organizers such as Dolores Huerta and Fred Ross Jr.
In 2017, Deja was also a delegate for Merced County Supervisor Lee Lor in her first Participatory Budgeting process. She developed project proposals for expanded youth services and food security that were funded and implemented in the Merced community. Because of her work, scholarships were provided for additional youth to attend SWAG Merced’s summer session that offers them academic enrichment opportunities and funding was provided to the Merced County Food Bank to accommodate residents with additional food education and resources. Deja was able to further support the Participatory Budgeting process with CNC when she helped to coordinate the canvassing team that collected 545 ballots in the community. These efforts ultimately culminated in communities choosing to additionally invest in seniors, city beautification, and community gatherings.
Deja is now a team lead of CNC Merced, coordinating monthly canvassing and phone banking teams, setting expectations, and training volunteers to speak from the heart. In June 2018, Deja led a team of 27 who engaged with voters about civic engagement and social justice issues and contributed to CNC Get Out The Vote (GOTV) programs that called over 75,000 voters.
Deja is currently studying psychology and sociology at Merced College and plans to transfer to UC Merced. She was born and raised in Merced and comes from a large family six.