Long Beach YMCA Helps Students Learn Tech, Get Jobs
By Dianne Anderson
Some kids have it all.
They have parents that feed and clothe them, keep them in sports or other extracurricular activities. They have schools that support them, and parents or extended family with high school diplomas and college degrees. Some even have their masters or Ph.D.’s.
Then, there’s that other group of kids that Bob Cabeza sees all the time – the kids who have not.
“We’ve got kids from single-parent households living seven people in a one-bedroom apartment. They can’t even do their homework in peace,” said Cabeza, vice president of community development for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach.
While some local programs flash impressive pictures with kids smiling big at multicultural parades, he said they fail to deal with the real obstacles that young people face. Teens and youth aren’t prepared to handle the most basic soft skills to survive adulthood, let alone securing a job.
He said that many lack adequate access to even simple technology, which is another tall barrier to education.
“We’re not addressing the bottom rung of the ladder to really help them interview well, and create that equity,” he said. “And then we expect them to have equity in finding a job and developing the hard skills of jobs.”
Coming from local low-income communities of color, he said the teens he serves are basically shell-shocked with deep-seated issues. They are coming in from barren places, which he calls opportunity deserts.
“It’s not like they’re going to mow lawns in the suburbs or go work in dad’s auto shop. You don’t have those places to begin with. You’re serving pretty severe areas,” he said.
The Youth Institute Program starts with high school as freshmen and some sophomores, following them to completion. They receive tutoring, support from mentors, help with summertime or after-school programs, where they prepare to enter the real world of becoming self-sufficient.
Currently, they have 52 kids receiving jobs funding, which qualified under CalWORKs summer youth jobs program in collaboration with the county. For the remainder of their 130 kids served, he seeks out funding wherever he can.
“I pay the other kids with everything through grants to you name it. If I can find it, they get it,” he said.
Last week Cabeza flew out on vacation to New York City where he caught up with one of his successful students that completed the program. The student had come from one of those barren places, a low-income Long Beach family, and graduated with a degree in accounting from Cal State Long Beach. Recently, he landed his dream job.
“He’s 26 and he’s one of my kids who made it out of ‘the hood,’” Cabeza said. “Now, he’s working in a firm in Manhattan. Those are the kinds of stories I have over the past 26 years.”
The program offers 4,500 square feet of indoor areas with a courtyard, and a small campus for family and family involvement offices, and community school office on site. Outside, there is a 10,000 square foot space for parking, and a basketball court.
Academic training and tutoring are mainly focused on high tech jobs, creative content, graphic design, movie and music production in their digital media studio.
They also learn about product design, and engineering type careers. Teens learn skills, train in STEM, 3-D printing, and after-school programs offer homework help to get them ready for college.
Students are entering the program from high school, and followed through to graduation, where they learn basic job skills, how to dress, write their resume, public speaking and communication.
YMCA also hosts their own in-house jobs program where they teach students high-end individual skills.
“They’re able to master those skills, intern and monetize the skills. We have productions, where we actually have them go out and work on jobs and get paid for it,” he said.
He said critical, analytical, and abstract thinking are all part of the learning process. A lot of focus is on social and emotional learning.
Normally, kids would learn survival skills from their parents, but many parents don’t have reliable jobs. The teens and youth don’t see role models in their inner circles, only people struggling with low paying work or unemployed.
“If kids don’t have parents doing the traditional things in the mainstream community, they don’t learn those skills. Our kids are dealing with the drama that goes on in their homes, their schools, their communities. They need to go through healing.”
For more information, call (562) 230-4302 or see www.lbymcayi.org