Youth Summer Internships Give Kids a Chance

Berli Degado felt adrift when her father was killed by gang members in her neighborhood seven years ago. She was in high school and she says she struggled with guidance. Many, she said, expected her to fail. But she was motivated to prove them wrong.

Her fate changed when she was selected to participate in a summer-long paid internship called the “Earn and Learn” Summer Youth Employment Program where she learned to use computer programs like Excel and Word. She was taught tricks to filing paperwork and dealing with demanding customers on the phone. Most importantly, she found a mentor to guide her through the labyrinth of college applications and loans.

Due in part to her internship experience, she was accepted into UC Santa Cruz, becoming the first person in her family to attend college.

“I was so stressed because I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “People always say reach higher, but they don’t tell you how. But my mentor guided me through the process and I learned so much.”

This year’s “Earn and Learn” Summer Youth Employment Program will be open to more than 3,100 young people, ages 14-21. Made possible by a $5 million investment by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, $2 million by the City of Los Angeles and the participation of more than 100 private businesses and public organizations, the program is the largest of its kind in the nation.

The program also includes “personal growth” and financial literacy training that is necessary to succeed in today’s competitive economy. A special emphasis will be placed on finding jobs for foster youth, many of whom struggle to find a path after they graduate. According to the bureau of Labor Statistics, the teen unemployment rate is 24.5 percent—three times the national average. Experience and skills gained from internships is an increasingly important asset to land a job. Because so many internships are unpaid, many young people without economic means are at a disadvantage. The Earn and Learn Summer Youth Employment Program are at no cost to the employers.

When 19-year-old Daniel Padron landed an internship with a local Police Activities League two years ago, he didn’t think he would like teaching. But there, he learned how to engage children in learning. He got his current job tutoring at South East High School because of the letters of recommendation he received and the experience he gained working at his summer internship.

“I had to really work hard with them and push education on them,” he said. “I showed them that it could be fun to learn.”

He used those contacts and his experience to continue his own education and is now expecting to transfer from Cerritos College to UC Berkeley in the fall.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who led the county’s efforts to get funding for the program, says investing in youth is a worthwhile endeavor and the program is a great example of public/private partnerships.

“These programs take these young people and say, ‘we have high expectations,’” he told a crowd at the press conference unveiling of the program this week. “The experience these young people will receive is invaluable. We are putting them on a path to successful careers.”

At the press conference, Chairman Ridley-Thomas was joined by Cynthia Banks director of the county’s Community and Senior Services and Dr. Gerald T. Kozai, chief executive of St. Francis Medical Center. The Medical Center will be hiring several youth from throughout the county.

“This program gives life skills to young people that are so necessary in today’s world but it also starts a mentorship,” said Kozai. “As we talk about our commitment to youth, this program is an example of what we want other members of the business community to do.”