Mission is to build a self-sustaining youth jobs program

Published in the February 17 – March 1, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo by Marty Cheek TeenForce employee Teresita Gomez works at Morgan Hill City Hall. Nichole Martin, community services coordinator supervises the teen.

Photo by Marty Cheek
TeenForce employee Teresita Gomez works at Morgan Hill City Hall. Nichole Martin, community services coordinator supervises the teen.

Last summer, the city of Morgan Hill Community Services department decided to bring an intern into its offices to help with clerical work. Teresita Gomez had recently graduated from Oak High School and was looking for a position. The San Jose-based nonprofit group TeenForce brought the city and Gomez together in July — and it’s been a beautiful partnership for both of them.

“I love it. Everyone here is very sweet and they’re all nice to me,” Gomez said. “I love being busy and they give me really cool projects to work on. It gives me, like, insight into the business world. I learned how to database. I learned how to do fliers. I learned, like, simple things, like how to scan stuff on a machine.”

Gomez works about eight hours a week as an intern for the city. The flexibility of the job allows her to attend Gavilan Community College classes for her general education before transferring to San Jose State University, where she said she might study business but hasn’t committed to a major.

The young woman found the intern position when a friend suggested she go to the TeenForce office located in the Friendly Inn on Crest Avenue. She filled in an application and went through an interview training workshop that helped build her confidence to talk to prospective employers.
“I feel like young people should definitely apply to TeenForce because they don’t just help get a job but they give job training skills and sexual harassment (information) and that kind of thing. I think that’s really important to have,” she said. “I think it helps me build job skills because I’ve learned things here that I can take on to another job. I feel like I didn’t have those before and now I do.”

Her boss, Nichole Martin, community services coordinator at the city, is pleased with the work ethic that Gomez demonstrates in her performance of office chores.

“She’s been a great addition to our team. She’s been able to help us with a lot of projects,” she said. “It’s great to have someone who has graduated from high school and is open to learning a lot of different things, whether it’s data entry or how to put together a marketing plan or even just some general office support. We really try to give her opportunities to learn different skills she may use in other different positions or are transferable.”

Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate and the rest of the city council members are big proponents of the 41 Developmental Assets, a YMCA program which promotes the development of children and young people. One of the assets encourages the community to support youth, so the city team saw an opportunity to open its doors to an internship for a recent local high school graduate and chose Gomez.

“The city participation in the TeenForce program is actually something the council wanted to do,” Martin said. “So our Community Services team wanted to make that happen, so we offered to take on an intern position.”

TeenForce started in 2010 in Los Gatos and is modeled after successful staffing industry agencies such as Manpower. Its mission is to build a self-sustaining youth jobs program that serves all youth ages 14 to 20 and current and former foster youth serve ages 14 to 24. About 50 percent of its work is with foster youth. Over the years, it has grown into San Jose and the South Valley region, with a base in Morgan Hill at the Friendly Inn opened two years ago.

Founder John Hogan said TeenForce has become part of the Morgan Hill and Gilroy communities and is becoming well known by local companies here who have employed its young people.

“In the past year, we have employed 72 South County youth with 17 different companies,” he said. “Youth have earned an average of $2,000 each in a variety of part-time, temporary and full-time jobs. Thirty percent of the work is with youth from the foster care system.”

South Valley companies that have employed TeenForce workers include: Kirigin Cellars, Shoe Palace, Willow Heights, Pacific Coast Benefits, Firato Janitorial, the Discovery Counseling Center, ETA-USA and the Morgan Hill Goodwill Store. Nonprofit organizations have also been involved such as the Living Above the Influence and the Rotary Club of Morgan Hill. The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce has been one of TeenForce’s best supporters in the region by having young people work at the Rock the Mock programs and Friday Night Music Series concerts.
“One of our mottos is ‘Our Teens, Our Jobs, Our Community,’ and to have the community feel like this is a good strategy to connect local kids with local jobs is the concept,” Hogan said. “As our team kind of becomes better connected with each of those groups, we become part of the conversation.”

Businesses and nonprofit organizations in Gilroy have also been involved in helping TeenForce youth get their first steps into the work world. Hogan noted that the city of Gilroy hired a TeenForce young woman to be involved with CalGrip program which focuses on gang prevention and services.

“She’s really become a driver of that program,” Hogan said. “We’ve definitely been serving and outreaching into Gilroy. And that’s an important part of what we’re doing. We’re trying to bring programming specifically and exclusively to South County youth as opposed to trying to serve South County youth from San Jose.”

On April 2, TeenForce will launch its Foster Youth STEM Program to introduce young people in the region to the skills they need for jobs in science, technology and engineering. The pilot program was done last summer in San Jose with foster high school-age youth spending six hours a day on nine consecutive Saturdays training in either robotics or software coding for skills and work readiness training. The 16 young people who participated then had the opportunity to do paid internships in technology-oriented companies. The STEM skills training program in the South Valley will be held in Gilroy for about 10 youths ages 15 to 17.

“We’re trying to bring the program to 100 percent of the foster high school youth in the county,” Hogan said. “When they complete that, they earn a Chromebook, but they also earn a paid summer internship with a company focused on a tech environment if possible. It’s exciting. We’re getting incredible support from businesses.”

TeenForce is seeking internship job positions for the STEM program youth in the South Valley, he said. The cost to a company is $2,250, with most of the money being paid to the intern who will do 125 hours of work for the business. TeenForce handles hiring paperwork, work permits, payroll, payroll taxes and W-2 reporting.

“We are really just starting our outreach down there,” he said. “We need employers who can afford that amount. It’s not a crazy number, but it’s not free.”

TeenForce can serve as a lifeline for young people who have gone through the foster care system. At age 18, 75 percent of foster youth have little to no work experience, Hogan said. For the first two years after age 18, 24 percent of foster youth have no earnings and earnings remain below the poverty threshold for these youth well into their twenties. By age 24, the average foster youth earns $690 per month, compared with the $1,535 per month earned by his or her non-foster peers. Wage earnings for former foster youth are strongly correlated with employment experience and job preparation while in care. By age 24, the only former foster youth who are consistently employed, earning wages near the national average, are those that had a job while in the foster care system.

Many of the youth who participate in TeenForce, such as Gomez at the city of Moran Hill Community Services department, learn they are finding their way to lifetime careers by building at an early age their job skills and seeing what opportunities await them, Hogan said.

“That’s where the story is. It’s not coming from someone like me. It’s coming from Teresita,” he said.

“What we’re doing for a young person, especially from foster care, is building their confidence. Most of these kids think their career is going to be minimum wage jobs such as in the food or hospitality industry — or the social services, because all they see growing up is social services or probation or courts. We want to see them get into a tech company or a professional company. We want these kids to know and believe that all the careers should be open to them.”

DETAILS

What: TeenForce
Contact: Laura Forrest, TeenForce Business Developer

at (408) 827-3078, ext. 8 or email laura@teenforce.org.

Visit www.teenforce.org.