Opening Doors for Community Youth

September 26, 2009

Andrea Akers was ready for a job. “I must have put in almost 50 applications,” she remembers. “I would go to the mall and drop one off at every store. I got so tired of seeing my friends get jobs and not getting called back.” When she did get called back, Andrea says she was often told she was too young. This was frustrating for the 17-year-old because, although she lived with her grandma in Chinatown, she also had a new daughter named Re’Naiyah and plenty of adult-sized responsibility.

Then Andrea heard about New Door Ventures, a training program that helps young people without much in the way of resources or opportunities develop job skills, find internships and meet their education goals. New Door’s current intern program serves youth who are 17 to 21 and offers three weeks of pre-employment training followed by a three-month internship, in addition to tutoring and one-on-one counseling.

Through New Door, Andrea had a choice of several work sites; she chose CUESA because she liked the idea of working near the Bay. Andrea started off manning the Waste Wise stations, helping guide farmers’ market shoppers to compost and recycle their garbage. It was late summer, and the days were often long and hot. But, as she worked hard, she started to get comfortable. And the CUESA operations staff noticed.

“We became aware of Andrea’s self-motivation, attention to detail, and willingness to roll up her sleeves and do whatever needed doing,” recalls CUESA’s Associate Director of Operations, Lulu Meyer. In January, Andrea was finishing up her three-month internship when the organization had a part-time opening for a Waste Wise volunteer coordinator. “It was a natural fit for us to offer her the position,” says Lulu.

Credit where it’s due

Now Andrea is being recognized beyond the market community. Next week REDF, a venture philanthropist organization and funder of New Door, will honor Andrea as a recipient of the 2009 Stuart G. Moldow ‘Step-up’ Award. All the organizations REDF funds had the opportunity to nominate a winner, and New Door chose Andrea.

According to New Door’s Caroline Pappajohn it wasn’t a hard choice. “Andrea’s such an amazing role model. She’s a beautiful mother to her daughter, she’s incredibly responsible, she gets rave reviews from her bosses, she’s shown us that she has really matured and is living what I would call a transformed life.”

Helping youth hit hard by the economy

It’s a tough time to be a young person looking for work. Pappajohn says she’s seen the number of jobless youth skyrocket in the last year. New Door works with youth who live under the poverty line – many are struggling with homelessness, low educational achievement and/or have been in foster care. But recently, she says, even youth who don’t fit their population have been coming to them asking for help finding work. “We’ve upped the number of jobs we offer,” says Pappajohn, “but we’re still having to turn people away because they’re not part of our core population.”

josue'sCUESA has been partnering with New Door since 2004, when the organization was called Golden Gate Community Initiative. CUESA has limited hours to offer part time workers, so New Door interns are a great fit, especially for its Waste Wise and Veggie Valet programs. In addition to Andrea, the organization has had several successful hires through various New Door programs, including Josue Hernandez (the above image is from the video telling Josue’s story at New Door), who was one of the first New Door interns.

For many interns, the CUESA opportunity offers a view of something new. “We are bringing the interns into this giant community of farmers, chefs, customers, and showing them a different side of community than many of them have ever experienced,” says Lulu.

Looking toward the future

Working as a team and with the public has been useful, says Andrea, who has always been reliable for her age. “I used to fill in when my school receptionist was out for the day,” she remembers. “I’d take all the calls and the principal would buy me lunch. I thought that was what I wanted to do when I grew up.” Now the 19-year-old plans to start taking City College classes in the winter and has expanded her vision of the future.

“Sometimes I think I’d like to be a nurse, but for now I’ll stay at CUESA as long as they’ll have me,” she adds.

One of Andrea’s key roles at CUESA has been to oversee the incoming New Door interns, and it’s a task she’s mastered. Next week she’ll start mentoring her third cycle of interns. ”I’ve been so proud to watch her mentor and supervise them. She is now very much a part of the market family,” says Lulu.

Andrea herself was a little caught off guard by next week’s award. “I’m kind of a shy person. I don’t expect people to recognize me – that’s not why I do things,” she says. “But it is nice sometimes; it’s reassuring.”