For many years, the Soboba Tribal TANF Prevention Resource Center has overseen the Work Experience through Leadership, Education, Acquirement and Desire (WE LEAD) summer youth internship program. It is open to all eligible Soboba TANF and at-risk Native American youth ages 14-21 who are interested in developing job and leadership skills and exploring various career options.
This year, 21 youths have been assigned summer intern positions with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Cahuilla Band. Applications were accepted from March 20 through April 13. Harold Arres is the Regional Prevention Manager for Soboba Tribal TANF’s PRC and has been coordinating the work experience program since he began working there in 2012. Soboba’s TANF program started in 2006 and WE LEAD was introduced a few years later.
Arres said all participants go through the same hiring process as any Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians employee. The next step in the program was to attend a four-day training week where they learned valuable details. It began with a presentation by Human Resources and included a class in financial literacy led by William Ramirez, Life Skills, CPR & First Aid training and Food Handlers Certification for those employed in those service areas.
The interns received two full days of job skills training with consultant Mikela Jones. She covered expectations and norms, communication, conflict resolution and included some team building and goal setting activities. To help them realize their full potential, Jones worked with the interns to identify individual gifts and talents to utilize during their work experience. She also gave them guidance on how to take care of themselves to prevent “burn out” since for some, this is their first job.
On June 15, a Meet and Greet Luncheon was held for the new employees to sit with their managers to go over requirements and expectations and discuss schedules. Harold Arres welcomed everyone and made introductions of his staff who the youth and managers will be working with through the course of the program to insure accurate time sheets and other issues. Interns will be working about 25 hours a week from June 20 through July 31, for a total of 175 hours.
After providing a blessing for Creator to watch over the youth, Soboba Tribal Executive Officer Steven Estrada congratulated them and commended them for taking the steps to get involved. “Money is great, especially over the summertime, but more importantly, you’re gaining work experience within a Tribe and this is something that should really be thought about,” he said.
He recalled hearing his mother and other relatives talk about it being hard to be an Indian and “thinking about all the challenges we face, don’t take it for granted that the Tribe is always going to be here, providing all these services.”
“Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act and it wasn’t just about families and children; at the core of it was Tribal sovereignty,” Estrada said. “This is just a reminder of how we are still facing challenges that could undermine everything and could take it all away. So, it’s up to you kids to take on these future roles. Really reflect over the summer on what you’re learning and give thanks to what has been provided by the Tribe, your parents, grandparents and the team working hard to create wonderful organizations and programs such as this.”
Soboba Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Geneva Mojado shared how she was part of a similar work experience program when she was about 14, doing secretarial work at the Old Tribal Hall. “Congratulations on your summer job. It’s truly a blessing to employ so many Tribal members,” she said after introducing fellow Tribal Council members Daniel Valdez, treasurer, and Monica Herrera, secretary. She noted that Chairman Isaiah Vivanco and Sergeant-at-arms Mike Bentiste are in Sacramento on Tribal business.
“Any job is going to teach you teamwork but be that team player and be able to communicate. Get to know who your co-worker is and enjoy what you do,” Mojado said. “Getting a job at your age is an accomplishment. You’re putting aside friends and some family to come to work part time. You are giving up 175 hours or your summer. But it’s 175 hours to learn something new, 175 hours to meet new people, 175 hours to learn a new skill and 175 hours to have purpose.”
She shared a quote from Michelle Obama: Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives. “And I think that’s what all of you are going to do,” she said. “Today you are making a positive impact on your community and your Tribe.”
Arres thanked the supervisors and managers for opening up their worksites for the youth this summer and for attending the meet and greet luncheon. He also thanked the young people who showed initiative by getting involved with the program. He said all youth interns are held to the same standards and same process as all Soboba employees. He said the program had 18 participants last year and it was budgeted for 20 this year but when 21 qualified candidates expressed interest, Arres said they were able to find money in their budget to include one more.
A hiring board of three people conducted an interview with each applicant. The potential employees had to submit three essays which were rated by each panelist. They also submitted a resume, which was part of the review process. An average score was assigned based on the individual panelist’s scores and everyone got a final rating. “We have refined the process over the years,” Arres said. “It gives these kids the experience of going through an interview process for any future job.
Parks and Recreation Activities Director Jennifer Garcia is supervising four Recreational Aides this summer. The Summer Youth Academy for ages 13-17 offers activities and outings throughout June and aides will be on hand to help out when and where needed.
Ashlyn Russell, 15, served as an aide last summer and said she likes working with kids. “The job is very hands-on and it’s fun to get to know all the kids individually,” she said.
Sisters Luisa and Shawna Rivera have also been aides in the past. Shawna, 15, said she likes chaperoning them on field trips. Luisa, 17, said she likes working with the children and doing something helpful. She plans to save her earnings for school clothes, Starbucks and the extra expenses she will incur entering her senior year of high school.
Akwaalimay Resvaloso, 14, is joining the work experience program for the first time and is excited to work with the kids at the Soboba Sports Complex. “I want to learn new things, get out of the house and save some money,” she said, adding that the most important thing she learned from the job skills training classes the prior week was to stay focused and always communicate.
Mkilawish Arres, 14, will be working alongside technicians at Soboba’s Information Technology department. She looks forward to learning more about how to help people with their computer issues. Chief Information Officer Steve Nino said this is the first time in a while that IT has been involved with the work experience program. “For what Mkilawish is coming into, she will be able to qualify for her technician’s certificate through Microsoft,” he said. “Technology is the basis for everything. She’ll be assisting with a lot of user end support and administration.”
Jocie Yepa, 17, will be spending her days working with Soboba Tribal Preschool Office Manager Amber Lopez. As an instructional aide, she will assist pre-kindergarten teacher Ana Garcia through June 29 while students are attending summer school. Then she will assist in setting things up for the next school year including registration packets and more. On her way to Cal State San Marcos in the fall to study Indigenous Anthropology, Jocie said she will be saving her earnings to help with college expenses.
Sandra Haro is a Registered Dental Assistant working at Soboba Dental and will have two interns learning about all the different duties and careers available in the dental field. “They can assist with suctioning, sterilization, getting trays ready for the doctor as well as being at the front desk to answer phones and take messages,” Haro said. April Haro, 17, said she wanted to work to be productive over the summer and to have the opportunity to gain experience in the field.
Alayna Resvaloso-Wood will be working with the Soboba Cultural Resource Department, dividing her time between the outdoor community garden with Eloyd Rodriguez and the office with Jessica Valdez. Alayna, 16, said she looks forward to working with the plants. She has her own tree and other plants in her home garden. She worked in the TANF office last year and wanted to explore other areas this time. Rodriguez said Alayna will have an opportunity to learn about soil testing and the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties, which are in season right now.
Arres said this program is a wonderful opportunity for the youth, providing them opportunities and goals they couldn’t find elsewhere. His own children have been part of the program in the past, and again this year, so he has seen the benefits firsthand. “Abigail was outgoing to begin with, but this program helped her achieve a higher level of maturity and confidence,” he said. Working with Soboba Fire, he said she has learned a lot about community service and that has carried over into her daily life.
“For kids that aren’t naturally outgoing, I’ve seen them come out of their shells and show leadership to their peers,” Arres said. “The barriers we’re breaking down for them is amazing. They learn how to interact with all ages in a workplace environment.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians