UAII Brings Workforce to Walking Shield in OC
Tuesday, July 16th marked a collaborative launch of the highly anticipated Workforce Development and Training Program, set to be delivered in Los Angeles County through United American Indian Involvement (UAII), and in Orange County through UAII subcontractor, Walking Shield of Costa Mesa. The event was well-attended by dozens of community members, friends of both organizations, and representatives from the offices of Congressman Harley Rouda and State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris.
Costa Mesa Parks Commission Chairwoman Liz McNabb, District Coordinator for the 74th Assembly District, expressed her unwavering support for the innovative new program. “We definitely wanted to participate and recognize the work that’s being done,” she said. “Because workforce development – getting people into middle-skill or higher-skill jobs – is going to be the way to the middle class.”
The new Workforce Development and Training Program is the brainchild of UAII, which was recently awarded a $4.8 million dollar, 3-year U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Grant. Overseen by Director Rene Williams (Colville), the program will assist adults (including Native Elders) and Native Youth ages 16 and up with access to employment training, support services, and the education necessary to succeed in today’s competitive job market – all in accordance with traditional cultural beliefs and values.
The primary goal of the program is to provide a long-term career path – not just a ‘job’ – for unemployed and underemployed American Indians and Alaska Natives living in Los Angeles and Orange County, to help alleviate the disparities they currently face entering the workforce.
“Partnerships like these with Walking Shield are extremely important for UAII to accomplish its goals,” said Williams. “Soon we will build partnerships with Workforce Development Boards across Los Angeles and Orange County that will expand our reach to provide much-needed services for American Indians across such a large area of Southern California”
UAII Director of Development Joseph Quintana (Kewa Pueblo) added, “This grant will provide American Indians and Alaska Natives with an unprecedented opportunity to gain access to a competitive job market and prepare them for long-term career growth.”
Quintana greeted the audience in several Native languages. “This program will include long-term economic development, economic security, and improving the economic health of our community members. Over 90% of our clients are low income or fall below the federal poverty line. We want to change that and provide access to a future where our members can provide for themselves and their families. Long term we want to establish small business access and financial literacy, homeownership, creditworthiness, and asset management.”
McNabb expressed her concerns over the barriers that hold back many in the district from achieving their career goals. “A critical area to address is that there must be a welcoming environment on campus for minorities and first-generation potential college students,” she said. “I think there are resources throughout most of the institutions of higher education. They work really hard. They go into the high schools, they hold college fairs, and they encourage students to explore the things they’re interested in – what they’re passionate about – but also letting them know it’s okay if they haven’t had a family member that has gone on to receive some sort of degree from an accredited institution. It’s okay to start by taking a class or two. There are so many different things you can try. Even just doing a campus tour – we can work on collaborating for campus tours. That would be an amazing first step.”
When asked which career fields she believes will be the most promising for the future, she explained, “The middle-career fields will be in information technology, healthcare, and more. I think there are so many opportunities, especially through the well-accredited community colleges to start out. For example, we met with Vanguard University right here in Costa Mesa yesterday afternoon. They have a program for 2 years that starts at Orange Coast College (OCC), 2 years at Vanguard University, and you’ll have your nursing degree. So there are these wonderful partnerships that are available that students can take advantage of to get the proper training and skills that are needed to be competitive in today’s market.”
She added, “We work with UCI, Orange Coast College, Irvine Valley College, Vanguard University, Concordia University, and all of these schools have outreach programs. I think that potentially if there’s a way to partner with your community, we’re happy to be a bridge. It would be wonderful synergy because I think diversity is what enriches the entire community; that is something we promote and want to expand upon. The beauty of being able to serve in this capacity is that we really do get to see things come to fruition. Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris has been in the office for only six months but she’s already had a big impact on the community. We also work closely with Congressman Rouda’s office (48thdistrict of Orange County). He’s been a close ally.”
Dr. John Castillo (Apache), Executive Director of Walking Shield and distinguished author of several published papers, including “American Indians: An Overview of Their Socioeconomic and Educational Status” published in the Journal for Vocational Needs Education, emphasized the importance of higher education in attaining a well-paying career.
“My Ph.D. is in human organizational development,” he said. “I have 4 degrees. My parents always emphasized education. Two of my siblings have master’s degrees, and my other two siblings have a BA – and I have a Ph.D. But 80% of our students going to college are first-generation. So you’re educating not only the student, but you’re also educating the family on the college experience.”
He added, “With this new program, there are many support services that weren’t there before, which I really like. We’re looking at opening a lot of doors; customizing whatever our clients need together with an employment plan. Whether it be entering vocational training or employment assistance – whatever they need to help them get a good job.”
Dr. Castillo continued, “We’ve already had a handful of folks get jobs. It’s very exciting. We also run an education program. We’ve given out a $1,800,000 in scholarships. For people that live here, we offer the opportunity for folks that want to attend 2- and 4-year colleges. We’re very well-versed at helping people get into college, stay in college, graduating – and now, together with UAII, going into employment.”
When asked which career fields he thinks are the most in-demand, Dr. Castillo was clear: “Anything in computer science or STEM. I try to encourage the students in our program to look at the labor market. We have about 70 graduates now. I tell them that they should look into careers that they’re passionate about. That’s super-important – probably the most important thing. If you’re looking at the job market, sometimes the passion and the job market might not match, but there are still employment opportunities in your field. You just need to be better than somebody else at whatever it is. You need to be able to compete. You need to be able to interview well. With this new program, we will develop employment plans for each client based on their unique goals and needs.”
He continued, “But at the end of the day, your level of education is matched up to how much you get paid. The higher you’re educated, the more money you’ll make. And if you’re going to live in Orange County or Los Angeles, you’d better make a decent salary. If you have a family, that’s even more important. Higher education really matters.”
He concluded with a personal anecdote. “A friend of my son graduated out of UC Berkeley. He’s an IT (Information Technology) person. He got offered $125,000 to start plus a $50,000 signing bonus. The STEM jobs pay really well.”
Marvin Thurman, Walking Shield Program Manager, directs all Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) infrastructures. “IRT is a military term – they keep their reservists in active readiness,” Thurman explained. “They build infrastructure on reservations. It becomes a win-win for the military and the reservations because the military will complete about 80-90% of the work and when they leave, another phase comes in to cap it off. Those are very good jobs.”
Madeleine Perez (Apache) is a third-year engineering student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She currently interns with the Metropolitan Water District and anticipates looking for full-time employment after this year.
The new Workforce Development and Training Program is designed to assist people like Perez in preparing them for gainful employment, retaining employment, advancing over the long-term, and helping them manage their financial affairs, including building credit, homeownership, and launching small businesses, if that is what they desire.
“It’s awesome to know that I have a community of people backing me,” Perez said. “I’m studying engineering right now, which is hard; I’m not the only female, but we’re a small percentage. Programs like this are so needed. They’ve been amazing at helping me through summer classes, always super-quick to respond if I have any questions.”
Juaquin Malta (Navajo), a fourth-year student at the University of California, Riverside, is majoring in psychology and Native American Studies. Like Perez, he is exceedingly complimentary about the program.
“I’m a student coordinator at the Native American Student Programs at UCR,” he said. “Because we’re a minority group within a minority group, it’s tough to get that representation, or to stay away from the misrepresentation, especially in academia.”
Malta added, “Speaking to people that you know have that same background or have similar experiences or come from the same perspective, if anything, you feel more confident that you’re speaking to someone who can relate to you. You’re speaking to someone who may share similar experiences. And that’s more comforting than speaking to someone who is outside of that. Not to say there is anything wrong with being outside of that, but just in terms of how familiar or how comfortable or how confident you may feel moving forward. It just helps. It’s not the determining factor, but it does help to see people in that position and to be speaking to them about your future. Because it’s like, ‘Oh, you understand.’ And just that extra reassurance is beneficial.”
Malta plans to continue his education with a doctorate in physical therapy from either Loma Linda University or the University of Southern California, enabling him to provide professional services that only a top-level education can provide. He hopes to give back to his community by mentoring others, as he was mentored.
Listening to the students describe their personal experiences, Lynda Estrella Gonzales (Yaqui), Walking Shield Program Director, could hardly contain her enthusiasm. “I’m so impressed! The students that graduate impress me with their grades and with their positions when they come out. It’s very rewarding.”
She added, “Our programs help students get ready to find a job in the field that they want, and we make sure that they’re getting paid. We help the unemployed and underemployed. Underemployed means you’re working part-time and you want to be working full-time, or, for example, that you have a degree in engineering and you’re working at a coffee shop. Not that there’s anything wrong with working at a coffee shop, but we want your qualifications to meet your income.”
Gonzales continued, “We don’t want you to just get a job. We want to put you in a career. We will help if you need clothes for an interview, training, equipment. This (Workforce Development and Training) program is really good. We have a female engineering graduate going for an interview tomorrow at the City of LA. She just graduated from Cal State Long Beach. Our hope is to get these students into leadership positions, to help the community and get more people educated and in powerful positions so that we’re getting ahead. We would like the graduates to be mentors to our other students. We like to pair them with each other. It’s so nice to have a community to work with. I love working with this community.”
Erica Ben (Navajo), a single mother originally from Tsaile, Arizona, graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She is currently completing her MBA at Cal Poly, working part-time as Department Coordinator of their Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department.
“I grew up in an environment where education was really not an option,” she explained.
“On the reservation, most people go straight to work. They don’t know that there are opportunities out there. But I tell my students, we have opportunities. You just have to go and look for it. You have to go and ask for help. I always tell them, ‘Don’t just aim for a bachelor’s degree, aim for a Ph.D.’”
In addition to her graduate school curriculum, teaching, and part-time work with the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department, Ben hopes to participate in new opportunities that might be on the horizon, such as a UAII Small Business Microloan Program, which would be a much-needed female entrepreneurship program designed to assist with start-up loans and a multitude of other resources to augment their existing small businesses. UAII is pursuing many options that will further improve the lives of our community members.
“My two passions are teaching and business,” Ben said.
“We can’t move forward without business. I’m opening my own business here in southern California because I love jewelry.”
Ben was practically beaming as she described her new entrepreneurial endeavor. Before she walked away, she introduced her daughter. “This is my little entrepreneur. She’s my marketer, my top salesperson.” The younger Ben was overjoyed to be promoting her mother’s business. Success seemed inevitable for both of them.
From generation to generation, UAII and its new partner, Walking Shield, are making an impact. Providing the tools, skills, and resources necessary for lasting empowerment and change, the Native American communities of Los Angeles and Orange County will never be the same again.