By Tracy Correa Lopez and Denny Boyles
BAKERSFIELD — While most students spent the summer taking it easy, 210 teens completed six-week internships and learned valuable job skills that will likely give them a competitive edge in their future careers.
Today (Aug. 3), 55 teens in Bakersfield celebrated the completion of internships as part of the PG&E Better Together Summer Jobs Program. Graduation ceremonies were also held in Fresno on Wednesday and Sacramento last week, the two other communities where PG&E partners with the Boys & Girls Clubs to provide the job training program for local high school students. In Fresno, 100 students graduated and 55 graduated in Sacramento.
In Bakersfield, it was a packed house in the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club Armstrong Youth Center where guest speakers and elected officials took turns at the podium praising the students for their hard work and dedication.
Vanessa Emo, president of Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, also thanked the roughly 30 local businesses that hosted the teens for the summer and taught them “what it means to be successful in the workplace.”
Congressman Kevin McCarthy thanked PG&E and told the students how lucky they were to be among only three communities to be offered the unique program opportunity.
“You had a tough summer, but you gained life skills,” he said.
McCarthy encouraged students to be persistent in their future endeavors, even when they are turned down, just like he was when he applied for his first congressional internship.
Pat Mullen, director for PG&E’s Kern Division, told the students to continue working hard and to use what they had learned to make a better future for Kern County.
Hirsa Sarafian, 17, who interned at PG&E, shared what she learned from mentors who encouraged her every step of the way. She was chosen to speak on behalf of the students.
After the speeches ended, each of the students was called up to receive a certificate as family members in the audience jostled for position and snapped photos.
And just when the students returned to their seats, thinking the celebration was wrapping up, PG&E’s Mullen announced a surprise gift for each graduate — a laptop — as confetti was simultaneously unleashed on the students. With that signal, PG&E employees and volunteers marched out with colorful gift bags for the students.
Genetra Anthony and Jesseca Aparicio, sat wide-eyed and open-mouthed in complete surprise.
“I so appreciate everything… that they gave us all this opportunity,” said Aparicio, 17, who interned with Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez.
Jeff Grimes, 17, was also stunned.
“It’s 500 gigabytes, that’s incredible,” he said after a quick assessment of the computer’s packaging.
Grimes said he has never had his own computer and was saving money earned from his summer internship to build one.
The laptop is great said Grimes, but what he learned from his internship experience at the Bakersfield Association of Realtors was far more valuable.
“It was a great opportunity. I picked up a lot of job skills,” he said.
It was a similar feeling of gratitude for students who completed the summer jobs program in Fresno and Sacramento.
Mauricio Lames, 17, a senior at Sanger High School, never had a real job before this summer, had never worked in an office and wasn’t sure how to even start looking for the opportunities he knew had to be out there.
“I knew I wanted to work. I knew I wanted to do something to give back to my community. I just didn’t know how to get going,” Lames said.
He found a way to start, first enrolling in the Career Launch program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, then applying for a paid summer internship at the Sanger Chamber of Commerce through the PG&E Summer Jobs partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs.
The Better Together Summer Jobs Program began in 2012 in Fresno, and later expanded to Sacramento and Bakersfield. This year, PG&E provided $961,547 to fund the program in the three communities, which also covered pay for the students.
In all, 850 students in Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield benefited from the workforce training program administered by the Boys & Girls Clubs. It was from this larger number that students had to compete and earn the paid summer jobs after a series of interviews.
Lames, who was chosen to speak to a crowd of more than 300 at the Fresno graduation on Wednesday, said the program changed his life.
“There’s no better way to say it than that. It changed everything. It showed me how to assume responsibility, how to accomplish the work I’m given, and what it will mean to customers. It showed me things I’ve never seen, and it’s given me new confidence about the future,” he said.
Email Tracy Correa Lopez at email@example.com.