By David Liebler.
“Opportunity” isn’t a word you often hear when it comes to youths who spent time in the juvenile corrections system. But opportunity is exactly what a number of these individuals are receiving through a collaborative program in Los Angeles County.
Take Frank for instance. Now 20 years old, he is thankful for the opportunity at a second chance. Formerly incarcerated in Juvenile Hall, he is turning his life around – and he thanks the Los Angeles County departments of Public Works and Probation for developing a valuable internship program.
Frank participates in the County’s Youth Opportunity Program, an innovative, cost-effective – and replicable – job training program for older teens leaving the County’s probation camps. A goal of the program is to keep these youths out of the adult correctional system, breaking the cycle of recidivism.
“Our goal is to create pathways for the youth,” explained Jesus Corral, Senior Director for the Probation Department. “It’s really a life-changing opportunity.”
That pathway is being created through the collaborative Youth Opportunity Program. “Public Works has opened up their doors to our young people and provided a lot of opportunities – from administrative to being out in the field,” Corral said.
Frank, who works on a Public Works crew, is quick to rattle off the skills he has learned during his internship – skills that can help him develop a career. And beyond the tools of the trade, the interns are learning soft skills, like how to work in a team, follow instructions and effectively communicate – skills that will help them in every facet of life.
Frank’s worksite mentor is Willie Hernandez. He is also a believer in the internship program. “It gives them a sense of structure and accountability,” he said. “They get to see a different side of the world, to see what a hard day’s work is.”
The relationship that Frank and Willie have developed is apparent. “Willie has always been there for me,” Frank explained. “He gave a kid another chance.”
Collaboration has been a key to the program’s success.
“This is a program where different County agencies have come together,” Corral said. “We are working with the common goal of changing outcomes and creating opportunities for these youth.”.
He emphasized that other departments, beyond Probation and Public Works, have a hand in making this program succeed. He pointed to Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services; Mental Health; and Human Resources as also playing integral roles.
“This is truly a team effort,” Corral added. “We all realize the outcome will be safer communities and assisting young people who are the future of our county.”
Los Angeles County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella has seen the program’s value first hand. “To see in their eyes some hope, a real job, and a future is something you don’t forget,” Pestrella said.
Corral pointed out that the young people who have been in this program, thus far, have been extremely successful. “We have just scratched the surface,” he said with a smile.
For Frank, the program opened his eyes. “It made me become a man,” he said. “I’ve seen my parents become proud of me. Instead of being at the bottom, I’m at the top, now.”