Shaping today's youth for tomorrow's success through love, laughter and learning.



We use the creative power of the arts, education, and strength-based collaboration to build a stronger community and inspire future generations.

The Merced Youth Connect is a local, non-profit organization committed to serving families in Merced. Our organization was founded in late 2016 by a small but passionate team of people working to bridge the gap between youth in Merced and local service providers. We've grown to include 11 Executive Board Members, all volunteering to contribute time and effort as we learn and build together. This skilled group of individuals from diverse personal backgrounds partner to bring expertise from the social service, law enforcement, educational and public health sectors. These helping professionals are supported by members who offer their knowledge of law, accounting, technology, project management, information management and customer service. In collaboration, our team reflects the community we serve and is an extraordinary example of the strength and value of connection in Merced County.

Our purpose is to foster healthy connections to activities, services, opportunities and mentors for youth in Merced County through collaborative partnerships and direct service. We hope that by creating a forum for these connections to be made, we can encourage school attendance and graduation, promote higher education, promote healthy life choices and educate and empower youth to overcome barriers associated with low-socioeconomic status and perceived lack of opportunity in the valley.

the board
Aaron Lequia

Chief Executive Officer

Greg Culot

Chief Financial Officer

Emily Tolsma

Chief Communications Officer

Julie Kellum
Matthew Serratto

Executive Director

Aaron Lequia is currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Merced Youth Connect and appointed President of the Board. His vision to develop an accessible, web-based platform where youth and families could easily access information about local events is largely the inspiration for the founding of Merced Youth Connect. Aaron's vision has grown beyond the single online tool to include the development of a dedicated, creative group of people creating new opportunities in our community impacted by his core values of teamwork, accountability and perseverance.


Aaron’s notable diplomacy and commitment to community make him the ideal leader on this exciting journey.  A long time resident of Merced County, Aaron believes that serving the youth of Merced with new opportunities, “is a starting point from which we can effect positive changes in the lives of residents of all ages and backgrounds. I am excited to pursue a future that is fit to be occupied by our children’s dreams.”

Greg Culot is currently serving as the Chief Financial Officer of Merced Youth Connect and appointed Treasurer of the Board.  Greg’s eye for accuracy and genuine passion for fiscal responsibility make him an invaluable member of our Board.  After serving in the private sector as a C.P.A for a large manufacturing company, Greg joined the Merced County Human Services Agency family in 2016 as an Analyst in the Social Services Branch.


Greg was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium, where he earned his B.A. in Communications with a major in Public Relations. After meeting his wife, Greg became a permanent transplant here to Merced County in 2009. Greg is the proud father of a 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter. His true commitment to his family and to our community beautifully reflects the mission of Merced Youth Connect.


Born and raised in Merced County, Emily left the area to study Oral History, Community Memory and New Media at C.S.U. Monterey Bay, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Human Communications. She currently works in the Employment and Training Branch within Merced County Human Services Agency.


Emily hopes to give back to the community where she was raised by helping to empower today’s youth through voice through a progressive, non-institutional philosophy. “I believe in ethical, effective, holistic and collaborative community programs that value the individual and their relationship to our community. Emily can contribute her extensive knowledge of community resources as we continue to build partnerships throughout Merced County.


A true daughter of Merced, Julie Kellum (Wheeler) was born and raised in Merced County where she currently works for the Merced County Human Services Agency. Julie has a true passion for working with the youth population, and in particular exposing them to healthy ways to deal with issues through the arts.  “As a youth I was very shy and had a difficult time speaking in public. Theater gave me the confidence to overcome that. I was also dealing with heavy issues at home, theater gave me a healthy and creative outlet to deal with my trauma. Due to the experiences of my childhood, I can relate to the clients I work with and I can hear the difficulties that they are facing without judgment.”


Julie’s passion for the dramatic has only grown since. Her generous and open spirit and willingness to engage with anyone make her great for outreach and engagement.


“Working with Merced’s young people, I see so much potential and so little opportunity for low-income families. I want to be able to open doors to creativity in a safe environment. All children have the right to experience the joy of creation. Being able to take a few supplies and turn it into something that can move someone to laughter or tears is an empowering feeling. It is also a safe outlet for dealing with their own trauma, a much better alternative than addiction or gangs. We need to take care of our children.”

Matthew Serratto grew up in Burlingame, but has lived in Merced since 2007 while working for the Merced County District Attorney’s Office as a Deputy District Attorney. Matthew hopes to contribute his energy, knowledge and legal expertise through his involvement with MYC, helping to make Merced a great place to be a kid. Matthew is also currently serving as a member of the Merced City Council, another example of his great desire to serve and engage in the community.


He studied History as an undergraduate at U.C. Davis before earning his J.D. from U.C.L.A.

“As D.A., we see the worst every day. You get familiar with the worst side of human nature, but you learn there is hope.”

Shavon Roach

Executive Director

Pao Saechao
Delray Shelton
Joe Neves

Executive Director

Executive Director

Shavon's inspiring story is a perfect reflection of the difficult circumstances children in our county face, but also of the resiliency of the human spirit and enduring power of service through love.

“I was born in a drug infested, impoverished, rural area of Merced County. My parents were addicts and I experienced an abusive childhood and homelessness at a young age. By the sixth grade, I dropped out of school, was a ward of the court and on probation. I was emancipated and became a teen parent by age fourteen. I am a poster child for the welfare system in Merced County.”


Shavon credits her connection to resources, supportive relationships with professional, encouraging adults and sheer personal determination for her ability to graduate from high school, start college and purchase her own home by the age of eighteen.


Shavon is currently working hard to prevent child abuse as a Family Resource Center Specialist at the Merced County Office of Education and Human Services Agency, Family Resource Council.  She hopes to utilize her skills as an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Facilitator, a Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) Certified Mediator and a Career Educator to develop direct service through MYC. 

Shavon’s passion for service is infectious. Her ability to open her heart and share her story with others will serve as a catalyst for transformation in the lives of Merced County Youth.

Pao Saechao was born in a Thai refugee camp before his family immigrated to the United States in late 1979. They moved to Merced in 1985, and he graduated from Golden Valley High School before earning his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Georgetown University.  Pao has experience working in a variety of industries in various capacities and currently trains automotive dealership personnel.


Pao’s straightforward nature is refreshing and efficient, and his opinions are typically offered with generosity and humor.  He hopes to provide better resources and programs to the impoverished youth in the county.  Pao enjoys creative writing in his free time and is currently working to develop an anthology of Mien Literature. Pao’s personal goals include visiting all fifty states in a calendar year.

Born and raised in Merced County, Sgt. Delray Shelton attended Golden Valley High School before earning his undergraduate degree from UI&U and his graduate degree from C.S.U. Stanislaus. He is currently the Operations Sergeant for the Merced County Sheriff’s Office.


Delray’s friendly smile, casual nature and professional communication style make him ideal for working diplomatically with other public agencies.  Sgt. Shelton wants to especially concentrate on helping the underprivileged and minority youth populations in Merced County and hopes to connect them with the proper programs and resources. He would like to help improve the quality of life for the youth in our community.

Executive Director

Joe is originally from Livingston California and has relocated back to the Central Valley after many years in Southern California, where he earned his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Economics with a Minor in Sound Engineering from the University of California San Diego in 2004, then returning to school to get a Master’s of Science in Counseling in 2014 from San Diego State University.


Currently he works from home for Apple where he conjoins people and technology through Managing and Mentoring technical support advisors to support our wide customer base.  Joe has a unique background in business, people management and providing mental health services to underrepresented communities.  As the vision expands, he will be able to add value in a number of different arenas.

Joe is passionate about programs to assist Merced youth with connecting to technology in artistic ways.  "I would love to see more access to technology and the ability to use artistic outlets for mental health, employment or simply community revitalization projects.  There is so much potential here.  With the right resources, Merced can become an amazingly creative and vibrant city."  He is also very passionate about programs that relate to assisting children with disabilities comprehend and react to social queues.

"I believe in hard work and opportunity yet realize resources can be scarce across the county.  Combining passionate people with a community that has so much potential, I believe will yield some amazing results!  I am a strength based, collaborative individual that believes both are instrumental in creating change.  Merced Youth Connect seems to share these values and ideals."

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