What 16-year-old wants to get up at 6 a.m. to get ready for work on a summer morning? Carina Cain, along with 32 other students enrolled in Puente’s summer youth employment program, does it four days a week.
Cain, 16, is a junior counselor at YMCA Camp Jones Gulch. Her summer internship, part of Puente’s Youth Leadership, Development, and Employment Program, pays her to supervise younger kids enrolled the innovative summer day camp sponsored by Puente and Camp Jones Gulch.
Four days a week, she’s usually in the pool by 8 a.m. with her young charges. The early mornings can be rough, but she loves the experience.
“I’m excited. This is my first real job, my first time getting actual work experience and getting a paycheck. I feel like that’s a big step toward gaining independence and developing as a young adult,” says Cain, who lives in La Honda.
Now in its eighth year, Puente’s summer program empowers local youth to earn an hourly wage while they learn work skills that will serve them in the professional world, says Rita Mancera, Program Director for Puente – including how to be accountable, collaborate with co-workers, and get to work on time.
“They are smart, hardworking, responsible people. We treat them as adults and they really respond to that. This is probably the best group we’ve ever had – but they tell me I say that every year.”
In addition to their work with YMCA Camp Loma Mar and school district programs like Panther Camp and Kick-Off to Kinder, Puente interns are gaining work experience this summer with South Coast Children’s Services, New Leaf Community Market, Pie Ranch and the Half Moon Bay Public Library, among others.
The program, funded in large part by the Workforce Investment Board of San Mateo County, Wells Fargo and Avanti Foundations, as well as other private donors, isn’t just about employment, however. The student interns, who range in age from 14 to 21, spend the summer learning how to cope in real-world situations. During orientation, students became certified in CPR and first aid.
They learn dining table etiquette and practice making small talk in social situations, so-called “soft skills” that can make a big difference in the real world. They take a nutrition class to learn about the difference between healthy food and their favorite processed junk foods.
The summer interns receive pointers on how to access scholarships and loans for college and how to stay on track during high school. And Puente requires students to participate in a job interview, even if it scares them. They learn how to answer questions about themselves and overcome their shyness with a potential employer.
“By the time the youth apply for a big job they’re going to do well. We already see them changing because they have the experience of going through an interview,” says Mancera.
Students also get to “travel” to other countries each summer by exploring their cultures, histories and cuisines. This year, the group visited Guatemala with the help of a local farm worker who was born there, and soon will continue their travels to Uzbekistan.
Each Friday, the Puente interns take a group field trip to a different tech company in Silicon Valley. “We’re going to Google, NASA, Univision, and a tech company called Service Now,” says Mancera. The students, nearly all area Latino, get to take a tour and meet with Latino employees – who tell them about the education and skills needed to break into their field.
“We don’t have that much tech on the South Coast,” adds Mancera. “If they haven’t seen what a computer engineer does, they won’t consider it as an option.”
Carina Cain says she loved an overnight trip everyone took together earlier this summer. They sat around a campfire and toasted marshmallows. Puente team leaders had students collaborate on a skit where they “acted out” how they imagined their future jobs in ten years’ time. Cain, who is interested in becoming a biologist, portrayed herself studying nature in the woods.
“There were police, graphic designers, fire fighters, doctors, nurses – it was really cool to see,” she recalls.
For Mancera, it was a moment that encapsulated the spirit of Puente’s summer youth employment program.
“They were showing trust about their future in a way that we haven’t seen with young people,” she says.