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Youth Employment Program Adapts to Virtual Training
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In the face of COVID-19, the City of Hawaiian Gardens’ Youth Employment Program (YEP) Coordinator Brianna Gonzales adapted the program to continue supporting local youth.

The YEP provides low-income youth between the ages of 14 and 24 from Hawaiian Gardens with professional experience and career opportunities. Participants attend 20 hours of paid trainings that cover topics like resume writing, interview tips, and general life skills. Following the trainings, each participating youth completes a 100-hour paid internship in the community. The Southeast Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board funds the program, paying participants $14.25 per hour.

YEP program participants in computer lab.

Hawaiian Gardens youth participate in previous YEP group training.

Each year, approximately 140 students from Hawaiian Gardens participate in the program. Past participants have interned at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Hawaiian Gardens Library, local businesses like dentist offices and nail salons, and large retailers like Petco. Some participants work at Hawaiian Gardens City Hall as well – each department at the City has hosted a YEP participant at some point. Approximately 40 percent of YEP graduates go on to receive an offer for full-time employment.

In the wake of coronavirus, Gonzales had to pivot the training curriculum so participants could continue developing their skills from home. With social distancing in place, she created an online format to continue to provide four youth with professional development during the COVID-19 shutdown. Gonzales initially set up Zoom calls to complete the trainings, but shifted to various individualized forms of video calls, emails and text messages to accommodate students with limited access to technology. Through these adaptations, she delivered approximately five hours a week of training to each student.

YEP program graduates

Hawaiian Gardens youth participate in previous YEP group training.

“So many of the students that come to the YEP program start off shy, without much direction or confidence,” said Gonzales. “I love watching students exit the trainings and internship with so much self-confidence and hope about what they’ll be able to accomplish. I am so glad we were able to adapt and continue to provide this service to our youth during this challenging time.”

Now that participants have completed this round of training, the YEP is on hold until the County determines if the internships can continue in the current environment. Gonzales hopes to connect current YEP participants with online programs, such as security guard trainings and typing certifications, to help them receive internship-style experience while much of the economy remains closed.

For more information about the YEP program, please click here.