Although incorporated as a city in 1989, the community foundation of Temecula has existed much longer and prides itself on its slogan “Old Traditions, New Opportunities.” The most recent census figures show that 30 percent of the city’s population is under the age of 18, which is well below the state’s average of nearly 24 percent. City officials decided that this population needed programs tailored to young students preparing to exit the school system and transition into adulthood.
City leaders recognize that its youth faces several challenges and obstacles while preparing for their future and decided to focus on four primary challenges: lack of participation in local government, low college attendance rates, unemployment, and youth with disabilities.
High school curriculum focuses on state and federal government but rarely includes an emphasis on local government. The city partnered with the Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD) to help youth experience the workings of local government in order to increase future participation.
While approximately 70 percent of TVUSD high school students’ transition to a two-year or four-year college immediately after high school graduation, the city’s goal is to ensure that the remaining 30 percent of Temecula’s student population is not left behind each year. College attendance rates have a strong correlation to the population’s level of higher education combined with work experience versus employment rates. Students significantly increase their chance of receiving job offers after graduation if they participate in an internship or have relevant experience.
The city also realizes that youth with disabilities have complex and unique needs that are not easily addressed. People with disabilities continue to have vastly lower employment rates as compared to the rest of the population. Only 19.8 percent of those with disabilities report being employed full- or part-time, compared to 68.2 percent of people without disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates only 10 percent of students with disabilities are attending college. This is partially because of the gaps in services, lack of support, and lack of inclusive opportunities.
Temecula created the Youth and Professional Development Program to provide local youth with various opportunities in city government by engaging students and working with its school district and nonprofit organizations to help facilitate a promising future for the next generation. Temecula offers four programs to support its emerging adult population prepare for the future: Youth in Government, Temecula Valley College Fair, Internship Program, and the Viticulture Program created for our special needs population.
- Youth in Government. The city’s Youth in Government program engages the youth of Temecula by providing valuable insight into the inner workings of local government. The two-day event provides students with an opportunity to work directly with, and emulate elected officials and department directors, research local subject matters, prepare relevant staff reports, and conduct department level meetings and a mock city council meeting. All students are fully tutored and prepped by city council members and staff members as to what questions to ask, what factors to consider, and the legalities and finances associated with each subject matter. The event concludes with a student debriefing of the entire program.
- Temecula Valley College Fair. The city launched a large-scale college fair to help increase college attainment. At the Temecula Valley College Fair, youth can visit booths and speak with college representatives. The college fair has a variety of representatives ranging from academically prestigious universities to specialized vocational schools. By welcoming a vast number of colleges to the annual fair, the city hopes students will consider applying to one of the schools showcased.
- Internship Program. In recent years, the city has offered one of the largest internship programs in the region, and quite possibly the state for municipalities of approximately 100,000 residents, to support nearly 200 young adults each year seeking work experience. The program offers local college students or graduates the opportunity to work in a supervised and professional environment. Applicants selected for the internship opportunity will work in a department relevant to their interests in order to best utilize their skillset. Students will familiarize themselves with professional office tools and devices, learn and practice time management, work with project deadlines, lead projects or programs, practice social and written skills, and network. Providing local college students the chance to intern fosters growth which, ultimately, may contribute to Temecula’s future workforce.
- Viticulture Program. Temecula offers various programs to increase employment opportunities for youth to equip students with independent living skills, social skills, and community involvement. One of those programs is the Viticulture Program which complements Temecula Valley’s wine country. The city has partnered with a nonprofit, Spero Vineyards, to develop a specialized vocational training program to prepare youth for entry level jobs in the wine and hospitality industry. The program is a unique public/private partnership designed to teach job readiness skills, local vineyard history, hospitality, customer service, and agricultural learning techniques. The program is designed to enhance the lives of those affected by disabilities, promote awareness, engage local businesses, expand the capacity in which the community is served, and increase service providers in the area.
The Youth in Government program is labor intensive for elected officials, city staff, and student participants, the effort to engage students at an early onset of their adulthood, but city officials believe it is well worth the effort. The fact that the program is competitive in nature illustrates its success. The city currently employs former students and participants of the program.
The Temecula Valley College Fair has grown considerably since its debut. In its first year, the fair was only two representatives short of having 100 colleges attend. The event has been recognized for its benefits to Temecula. The high volume of traffic is advantageous for its location — the Promenade Temecula mall. The Promenade Temecula mall has repeatedly reported a significant increase in sales during the event while exposing Temecula’s youth to higher education opportunities from across the nation. The fair usually brings in a surge of sales tax, second only to the busiest sales day of the year — Black Friday. The annual fair also helps local hotel businesses. People that travel to Temecula for the fair stay in local hotels, reporting a 9 percent increase in business during that weekend.
The internship program has also received recognition since its inception over five years ago. Participating interns benefit from the program by being able to include on their resumes that they were involved with an official internship program located in a government building and supervised by government officials. The internship program is student-friendly, allowing for flexible scheduling in respect to school obligations. Temecula offers mostly unpaid internship opportunities; however, the experience they gain in a safe, regulated and professional work environment provides invaluable experience for their future.
Since the implementation of the special needs Viticulture Program, more than half of the students have completed the program with jobs and internships in the community; 100 percent of students have completed a Customer Service Certification and a Food Handlers Card, and 100 percent of students have shared that the program has empowered them to make tremendous strides toward their futures. The program curriculum has been featured in the press, televised on KVCR and ABC 7 News and distributed to Northern California’s Wine and Agriculture communities for replication of the current model.