◆ By Mike Hiles
This week, 15 young Native Americans started working at new jobs as part of this summer’s WE LEAD program supported by the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Tribal TANF department. The goal of the year-round LEAD prevention program is to provide Leadership through Education, Acquirement, Desire. WE LEAD adds Work Experience to the structured program.
Youth are provided with a collaborative network to encourage empowerment, foster positive relationships and identities and to development leadership attributes. The summer program for those who are age 14-21, gives them a chance to try new things and learn about possible career paths.
Harold Arres is the Regional Prevention Manager for the TANF Prevention Resource Center located on the Soboba Reservation. A meet and greet luncheon there on June 20 gave participating workers an opportunity to meet with their soon-to-be supervisors and/or other representatives from the department they have been assigned to work at for 24 hours a week through July.
“They go through the hiring process just like any other Soboba Tribal employee,” said Arres, who has two daughters in this year’s program. “They all undergo a background check, a drug screening, get identification badges and have a new employee orientation with HR; we make it as realistic as possible for them.”
All documentation goes through Human Resources and each applicant is also required to submit an essay to the TANF program. A three-person panel scores everything anonymously and then conducts a face-to-face interview. The highest scoring applicants are usually able to get their first-choice job site.
“We also contact all the departments and see if they are willing and able to take on some youth workers,” Arres said. “It’s a big undertaking to train someone on top of all their regular duties.”
Soboba was able to provide jobs within its cultural resource, environmental, public works and TANF departments as well as Noli Indian School and Soboba Tribal Preschool. Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians has provided worksites in its tribal administration for youth who live in the Mountain Center area.
Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Scott Cozart applauded the young men and women for taking the necessary steps to be included in the summer job training program. Tribal Administrator Michael Castello said it is a wonderful opportunity for them.
“Their biggest emphasis should be on showing up,” he said. “During the summertime, there are a lot of distractions and showing up is hard, but it is rewarding. I hope to see how proud they are of themselves at the end of the program, knowing how much they’ve accomplished and how much they’ve grown.”
TANF Program Specialist Olga Gomez said WE LEAD offers career skills that will be valuable to the youth throughout their lives.
“It’s a big deal to work with and for the Tribe,” she told them.
Victor Hurtado, 14, will be working at Noli Indian School where he is already spending time this summer in training for the football team he will playing on as a freshman.
“He did everything he was supposed to do to get the job,” said his mom, Kelli Hurtado, who is also Soboba Tribal Council Treasurer. “I hope he enjoys it and learns a lot.”
At the age of 13, Hurtado said she worked with a similar program – CIMC (California Indian Manpower Consortium) – and was a receptionist at Soboba’s Old Tribal Hall.
“It is good to learn how to interact with others and that’s what I’m hoping for all the kids who signed up for this program,” she said.
Her son is looking forward to the experience and hopes to learn a lot from his supervisor, Andrea Helms, who works as a school resource officer for the reservation school’s campus. Victor will be the first youth to complete a work experience position there and will be setting an example for future summer employees at the worksite.
Even before the Department Orientation Checklist for New Employees was completed by Will Booth, he shared some insights to the mechanic’s job that 14-year-old Francisca Rivera requested.
“We’ll be doing fleet maintenance,” said Booth, an employee at Soboba Public Works for about five years. “She’s the first female to work in our department but it is becoming more and more common to see women in our industry.”
He said he enjoys teaching others about something he cares about, especially when they are as interested in learning as Francisca is. Booth said she will get more experience working a variety of projects since his department uses the summer months to do major services on the fleet of Noli buses, Public Works and Public Safety equipment and machinery used by the Cultural Department’s Traditional Land Resource Management Crew.
Sisters Jasmine and Jayden Basquez are both new to the program and happy they have been placed at the Soboba Tribal Preschool. Jayden, 14, will work in the three-year-olds’ classroom alongside Melissa Arviso and Ana Garcia.
“We are excited to have them both at the preschool,” Arviso said. “It’s always good to have extra hands to assist with the little ones.”
Jasmine, 16, has been assigned to the kindergarten classroom to work Cindy Lee and Antonia Venegas.
“I like to help kids to experience new things and help them get to the next level,” Jasmine said. “It will be nice to work with the kids while I’m learning at the same time.”