“Bresee helps the youth and those who are most disadvantaged. Serving Koreatown, a primarily Hispanic community, and advocate for the need of bringing peace to our community. By focusing on the youth, Bresee is able to build a better future where everyone is given equal opportunities and leads them to a successful future.” – Youth Participant Irvin, who took this photo.
“When I was a kid, my mom would go to Bresee and get coupons for TAP cards. Things like that really helped our family out when we were growing up. Also their food drives. She would sometimes sign up for our family to get food boxes. Sometimes she would also take workshops for parents [where] she would be more aware of how to help out within our small family.”
-Nancy, Bresee C2C Program Participant
This third edition of the Equitable Futures Innovation Network blog series highlights the work of Clubhouse-to-Career (C2C). C2C is one of several programs housed in the Bresee Youth Center. Supported by the Best Buy Foundation, C2C is one of 52 Teen Tech Centers across the country that aim to provide a mix of technology training and mentoring to teens from underserved communities. As a STEAM pathways program, C2C serves Los Angeles Unified School District high school students by providing access to educational programming in web design, podcasting, web development, marketing, and tech support. During the academic year, youth participants engage in after-school skills; building workshops, workforce competencies training, and a community project. The culminating feature of the C2C program is a summer internship. As summer approaches, youth participants go through an internship application and hiring process where they interview for openings with local business and non-profit organizations. For two months, C2C participants apply the lessons learned from the training program into their internships.
The Equitable Futures Innovation Network (EFIN) is a project of the Connected Learning Lab at UC Irvine, focused on fostering career equity in asset-based and identity-affirming ways. This post is the third in a series of reflective case studies of partnerships between EFIN researchers and organizational leaders.
Supporting Youth and Families
One of C2C’s unique features is that it is part of a larger network of care focused on serving young people, their caretakers, and their families. Nestled on the western edges of Los Angeles’ Rampart Village neighborhood, the Bresee Youth Center was founded in 1982 as a small drop-in tutoring program and an after-school space for young people in Central Los Angeles. Over the years, the center has expanded its programs to include a suite of services related to youth development, academic support, and family support resources.
“When we enroll students into our program, we invite families to submit an intake form,” says Karen Martínez, the Workforce Development Manager at the C2C program. “And with that assessment, we’re able to see what kinds of support our students’ families need the most. Some of the services that we’ve been able to provide C2C students’ families include rent and utility assistance.”
Bresee hosts the FamilySource Center, which connects local low-income families to free social services such as rent relief programs, eviction defense, immigration legal assistance, adult ESL courses, and tax preparation. These specific services address several of the needs of local immigrant families who live in Rampart Village and other nearby neighborhoods.
The host of services offered at the Bresee Youth Center underlines the organization’s wraparound strategy. In other words, the program is designed around the assumption that young people’s development is directly connected to the strengths within their families and the systemic barriers within their communities. As such, supporting the needs of families is directly connected to promoting their children’s educational and career trajectories.
Youth Agency and Exploration in Workforce Development
While the program prioritizes STEAM opportunities for young people, Karen also highlights how she and her colleagues are there as a resource for students, not to dictate which educational and career paths C2C participants should pursue.
“After high school, you know, maybe college isn’t what you want to do. Ok. Let’s explore career paths. What is it that you want to do? We’re here to help you explore different options together and we’re going to set you up for success. I’m not there to change their minds,” Karen explains. We’re there to support them no matter what they choose.”
As part of their training for their internship placements, C2C interns participate in a pre-internship project. For the past several years, interns have engaged in projects that have focused on their neighborhoods and communities in Los Angeles. As part of the Equitable Futures Innovation Network collaboration with the C2C program, we supported C2C staff and youth participants in implementing a photovoice project, where students utilized photography to explore the assets, needs, and problems in their respective neighborhoods within Los Angeles. More importantly, the project highlighted how these young peoples’ career trajectories and aspirations reflected a commitment and appreciation for their communities. This focus on community is also reinforced in some of C2C’s internship placements, where they have positioned young people in STEAM-oriented internships as well as internships within non-profit community serving organizations.
Redefining Professionalism and Workforce Readiness
While C2C works with its interns in workshops on workplace competencies, what stands out is how the program encourages young people to recognize their personal strengths and put them into action through their summer internships with local businesses and organizations. Eric, a high school senior and an incoming student to Middlebury College, has been with the C2C program for the past two years. As he approaches adulthood, he chalks up his personal entrepreneurial spirit to his family. “My father is a street vendor. As a son, I help out with the business, whether that be stocking the merchandise or helping him get set up before he starts the work day.” Eric’s family business struggled during the height of the pandemic as neighbors and community members sheltered in place.
In the Summer of 2022 Eric was placed in an internship with an online publishing company through C2C, where he applied the lessons from his family business. As part of his internship, he learned how to pitch ideas to a team, which required taking in feedback, going back to the drawing board, and coming back with an improved idea. Eric points to his family’s resilience and adaptability as important lessons he works to apply to his educational and career aspirations. For Eric, professional development was about embodying perseverance, being adaptable, and being skilled at collaborating with a wide range of individuals.
For many BIPOC young people, being able to envision themselves in specific professions and careers comes with challenges and barriers. Some scholars have referred to this concept as imposter syndrome – the psychological and interpersonal stressors, and cultural stigmas minority groups encounter as they enter environments and fields where they have been historically excluded. For BIPOC young people, imposter syndrome may mean confronting and overcoming deficit-centered racial stereotypes of minority communities that continue to persist. As such, a crucial part of C2C’s work has been to provide C2C interns the space to recognize and own their personal assets, talents, and potentials.
Another C2C program participant is Nancy, who grew up in Los Angeles’ East Hollywood neighborhood. An incoming UCLA Bruin, Nancy has a passion for writing, history, and social justice. Through her internship with C2C during the past summer, she cultivated an interest in a future career in marketing. Like Eric, she spoke about how the preparation she received in C2C set her up well to engage in essential workforce skills such as group collaboration, conflict mediation, and self advocacy. At the same time, what C2C ultimately taught her is something even more profound. She highlights how, for her, workforce development and professionalism was about learning how to see herself as belonging and deserving of the opportunities that were opening up:. “As people who come from minority communities, sometimes it feels like, ‘Am I not supposed to be here?’” Nancy notes how C2C has supported her in being comfortable taking up space and pushing back against feelings of unworthiness of being in professional spaces. In reality, I’m here for a reason. Sometimes you might doubt yourself, but I realize that I’m a perfect fit for this. I’m here because of my own accomplishments and my own motivation.”
As a model for EFIN, the C2C program demonstrates the strength of a holistic approach to youth career development programs that are multi-generational. While workplace competencies and professional development are essential elements of the program, they’re a smaller part of a larger ecosystem of care that addresses the needs of both youth and their families. According to Martinez, C2C continues to expand and serve a larger number of youth each year. This will entail recruiting new community and business partners who can offer additional internship placements for C2C youth.
While the internships are the centerpiece of the program, it’s the personal growth of youth participants that define success for C2C: “Some students come in very shy and don’t really participate. Now, they’ve made friends. Their parents become more involved. Sometimes they [youth participants] start to come every day after school,” Martinez notes. “When they build relationships with myself and other staff and our team – that’s a successful outcome”. At C2C and Bresee, success is a multi-generational and community affair.
Miguel N. Abad is a San Francisco-based youth worker and an assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University.