By Tracy Correa
FRESNO – The 55 students who completed PG&E’s Summer Jobs Program had returned to their seats thinking Thursday’s (Aug. 9) graduation ceremony was wrapping up. Then, PG&E President Chris Johns announced — in a “by the way” manner — that each student was being given a netbook computer.
The smiles erupted and high-fives filled the room.
“I had no clue,” said Ty Hernandez, after he was handed the netbook by a PG&E employee, one of several who fanned out into the audience to present the gifts at the Zimmerman Boys & Girls Club. “My family would never be able to afford this,” said an emotional Ty.
The surprise gift was kept tightly under wraps at the ceremony that highlighted the success of the first-time partnership between PG&E and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County. The pilot Summer Jobs Program — launched in April with a $200,000 grant from PG&E — provided career training to more than 200 teens and paid summer jobs for 55 of them. The 15-to 18-year-old students who landed jobs are from some of the neediest neighborhoods in the Fresno area and earned $1,600 for their work.
“It was an amazing journey,” said Diane Carbray, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, as she thanked her staff, local business partners and PG&E.
Speakers commended the students who worked hard over the summer, eight of whom impressed their employers so much that they were offered jobs after the program ended July 27.
Johns talked about PG&E’s involvement and the importance of investing in the futures of young people.
“Each of you, I’m sure, will take away new lessons, new skills … that will make it easier to go out and look for that next job,” said Johns. “I look forward to many of the folks in this room working for PG&E.”
Jay Williams, from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, perhaps traveled the furthest to make the event. “I brought greetings from President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis,” said Williams, who recalled benefitting from a similar program as a teen in Youngstown, Ohio.
He applauded PG&E for being one of the first companies to answer the president’s national call to action this year to provide youths with summer employment opportunities. “Thank you for your leadership,” said Williams.
Both Johns and Williams were presented T-shirts with the Boys & Girls Clubs logo by Carbray.
Other speakers included Clifford Hackney, regional service director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Fresno City Council Members Oliver Baines and Blong Xiong.
Priscilla Stuebner, human resources director for Me-n-Ed’s Pizza, which hosted 10 student workers over the summer, praised the teens and described the program in one word: “Fantastic.”
Testimonials also came from teen Kaura Lopez and her mother Martina Marquez, who talked about the job skills and confidence her daughter gained this summer. Kaura, who worked at the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission Sanctuary Youth Shelter, said the experience helped reaffirm her desire to become a teacher so she can help young people.
After the speakers concluded, students were called up to collect their final $150 stipend. PG&E also gave them backpacks stuffed with school supplies.
But the big prize was the netbook computers.
Joseph Melendez couldn’t contain his smile when handed the surprise gift. “I feel blessed. This is going to help in college.”
“I was like are you serious?” said Leonor Lopez, after hearing Johns announce the notebook giveaway. “I didn’t expect this.”
At the end of the program, PG&E’s president got a surprise, too: The emotional mother of one of the teens ran up to Johns and gave him a big hug.
Here’s the video that was shown at the Summer Jobs graduation event:
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com.