Summertime means job time for many ◆ By Mike Hiles
For the past nine years, the Soboba Tribal TANF Program (STTP) has been able to offer a summer work program for youth thanks to its WE LEAD (Work Experience through Leadership, Education, Acquirement & Desire) component. Falling under its LEAD umbrella, which consists of low-risk, alternative activities and services directed at the general Native American population, 14 positions were made available this summer.
"The goal of the program is to introduce at-risk young adults ages 14 to 21 into a structured work environment and allow them the opportunity to gain marketable job skills, while exploring various career fields," said Crystal Ruiz, who is overseeing this year's program. "While employed, participants will develop and practice work skills under the guidance of the assigned site supervisors and the STTP Staff."
All applicants went through a competitive process and were ranked according to how well they did on their interviews, essay questions and resumes. Four are returning workers and 10 are new to the program. Two youth are from the Riverside area and the rest are Soboba tribal members.
At an informal meet and great luncheon prior to the start of their five-week assignments on June 26, workers got to sit with their supervisors and ask questions about what they could expect on the job. Prior to the luncheon, the youth had met with Human Resources to learn about dress code and acceptable conduct while on the job. Earlier in the week they had attended various orientations and training, specific to their positions.
The youth are allowed to work 24 hours per week at $10.50 per hour. Lifeguards can work 30 hours per week.
Soboba Tribal Administrator Michael Castello congratulated the young people at the luncheon for making it through the selection process and encouraged them to take full advantage of the opportunity.
"You will grow so much from this program; it will build a foundation, not just as a worker but as a person in years to come," he said.
Soboba Tribal Vice Chairman Isaiah Vivanco told the group that he has lived at the Soboba reservation his entire life and when he was 15 years old, he entered a similar summer work program through California Indian Manpower that assigned him to work at Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District.
"That turned into a 27-1/2 year career for me," he said. "Something you learn today could spark what you might do in the future. These jobs will teach you life lessons and I congratulate you for taking the necessary steps to work this summer; these positions help our community."
Soboba Tribal Chairman Scott Cozart thanked the youth for taking the initiative to learn skills that will expand their horizons. He had a similar work experience when he was young that led him into working in the construction industry most of his life.
Former program participants, Julissa Garcia and Jasmine Huber, found value in the WE LEAD program when they were involved for a couple of summers.
"The most important things I learned were proper employee etiquette, leadership skills and child care techniques," said Garcia, 19, who spent the summer of 2013 and 2014 in the program, working at the preschool the first year and the sports complex the next. "After that real-life, hands-on experience, I realized how important our tribal youth are — and I knew that is where I want to work after my education is complete. Mentoring influenced me to consider going into social work."
Huber said her experiences for two summers taught her much about the job interview process. The college student said being a role model for the youth was a highlight of her time with the program.
"I had to be more social and put myself out there to be a leader," said Huber, 20. "By far my favorite part of the summer youth program was building the right steps I needed to get a job in the real world."
Harold Arres, site manager for the STTP, stated his appreciation for the supervisors at the work sites that agreed to train workers knowing it is a short-term assignment and giving the youth as realistic an experience as possible.
Wambli Basquez will be working with kids attending the summer recreation program at the Soboba Sports Complex.
"I did it last year so I can kind of teach the new workers what to do," said Wambli, 16.
Andy Silvas will be supervising four lifeguards while Jennifer Garcia oversees the other workers at the sports center. He said having the youth workers there allows them to offer more activities for youngsters such as field trips that need chaperones.
Benny Helms, Ajay Parcero, Jericho Vivanco and Deven Lopez were required to complete an additional 26 hours of training to be certified as lifeguards.
"I'm doing it for the experience, plus it will look good on my college resume," said Benny, 16.
Ajay, 17, wanted to spend his summer outdoors doing something productive.
"My dream is to become a professional baseball player," said Ajay, who is a catcher for the San Jacinto High School Tigers team. "I will be able to work on my people skills and communication, too."
Jericho, 16, wanted the experience but was glad to get the CPR training that was required – something that will always be useful.
"It's good to try to learn something new," said Deven, 17. "It should be a good summer."
Gabriel Gomez, 16, will be working in the TANF office and Alena Jordan will be at the Soboba Tribal Preschool.
"I wanted to get a head start for work and gain experience," said Alena, 17. "I grew up with a lot of kids around and I have done lots of babysitting."
Preschool Director Dianne King said Alena will have the opportunity to learn a lot about the school's daily operations, such as recordkeeping, interacting with family members, the importance of confidential files and lots of observation as a teacher aide.
Delbert Briones will be working in the mechanic section at the Public Works department. His supervisor is Will Booth, who has been there for almost three years.
"This is my third year in the program and I wanted to learn something new," said Delbert, 16, who plans to put all his earnings into a savings account."
"He'll be learning how to do oil changes, changing out tires, light bulbs and general clean up," Booth said. "We service vehicles for all departments such as Noli Indian School and public safety."
John Valdez will be working out on the greens of the Country Club at Soboba Springs as he works with the maintenance staff and his supervisor, Javier Sotelo. He will also help with repairs and cleaning around the facility.
"I golf with my cousins and it looked like a good place to work," said John, 15.
Johnny Garcia is going to work with the recreation program at the Sports Complex.
"I want to get the kids energized and not see them waste their summer on video games," said Johnny, 14. "We get to on field trips with them to help out. It seems like fun to help out the little kids – and it benefits me, too."