At-risk youth work for the FDO Department to help with tasks from landscape improvement to painting. (Photo: Alanté Millow)
Cal State East Bay’s Facilities Development and Operations (FDO) Department is providing paid internships for at-risk youth in the community through a youth employment program called "Highway to Work."
Youngsters ages 15 to 18 are working on campus in such areas as landscape improvement, moving services, event set-ups, exterior and interior cleaning, painting, plumbing and carpentry work.
Only those in foster care or going through the probation system are eligible for these internships. Because they are working to turn their lives around, most of the young participants have chosen to remain anonymous for this article.
According to David Miller, CSUEB’s maintenance manager, this internship opportunity is the last chance for some of these young people to set their lives on the right track.
“(For a) lot of the at-risk youth, this (opportunity) has impacted them in a good way,” Miller said. “We’ve not only taught them career tools, but respect as well.”
One youth worker said she really enjoys working on campus.
“I’ve worked in almost all the trades on campus and there is a lot to learn,” she said. “I learned things like how to replace a toilet or fix a faucet. It’s all good stuff to know.”
Another intern said she appreciates the opportunity because it taught her discipline and awareness.
“Having to be at work early in the morning is something I had to learn and get used to,” she said. “We have to pay attention to details for the jobs we do because if we mess one thing up, it can ruin the whole project.”
“The internship helps with self esteem, trust, confidence and obtaining valuable experience for entering the work force,” Miller said. “It also helps them to gain a positive perspective regarding life and relationships.”
Miller said the goal for the program is to provide a positive work experience for the young workers, where there is encouragement and university staff members are seen as role models and mentors.
“A lot of us (in the FDO) had someone who spent time with us, when we were young,” Miller said, “and we just want to give back so they get some of the same opportunities we had.”
“The guys I’ve been able to work with are so kind and caring,” another of the young youth workers said. “They immediately accepted me into their team even though I’m way younger than them.”
Miller likes the lessons that “Highway to Work” can teach the interns.
“A lot of (the youth) have been in trouble with the law, but I think working on campus and seeing all the students and the fun things going on, gives them motivation to (eventually become a college student),” Miller said. “Hopefully while they are working here at CSUEB, exposure to the atmosphere, lifestyle and personal encouragement will help them to make decisions to further their educations.”
Miller recalled a youth worker who got in trouble with the law and was required to write a letter, telling how his behavior is changing. Together Miller and the young man composed a character letter that helped “bail him out.”
When asked what is the best part of working with the youth, Miller said: “Their eyes, their smiles and their genuine gratitude.”