Putting the 'career' in college and career ready

Half of the girls there just came to meet the guy who designs some of Justin Beiber’s sneakers. But everyone left with a sense of how, with a lot of hard work, you can turn a passion into a career. Several teens joined the club on the spot.

Last spring’s sneaker design workshop was just one of the career-centric aspects of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley’s (BGCSV) new Career Launch program. This new initiative tackles the “career ready” half of the oft-quoted goal of making Sonoma teens “college and career ready” by graduation.

While the program is still in its early stages, it is generating buzz among teen members. The club will dedicate a large portion of the funds raised by its October Fashion in the Vineyards event to the program.

Onboard this month to take the reins of the program is new hire Eric Martinez.

Martinez received his master’s degree in counseling from Sonoma State and his undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley. Prior to coming to Sonoma, he was an academic, career and social counselor at Napa High School and at Silverado Middle School. He is bilingual and has the added bonus of being an experienced residential social/emotional/substance abuse and mental health counselor.

The Career Launch program is broad in scope and ambition, and open to all Sonoma teens with the $20 high school BGCSV annual membership. Workshops, college and career tours, mentorships and hands-on job experience expose teens to career options, whether they are headed to college, enrolling in a certificate program or are still trying to figure it all out.

“We hope that Career Launch will expand our teens’ career goals and help them to develop a game plan for their future,” explained Martinez from his office in the new teen building behind the main clubhouse.

Career tours are one cornerstone of the program. Last spring, a group visited the Sonoma County Water Agency to learn about county jobs. Over the summer, they visited the Sonoma County Sewage Treatment Plant, EA Cross Fit, Body Best Auto Repair, the San Francisco Zoo and the Police and Fire Training Center in Windsor.

In a crossover with the Club’s College Bound program, teens also go on college tours. Last spring, teens visited Dominican University, UC Davis, Sacramento State and toured the career and technical education programs at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Most exciting perhaps are the career presentations that have already taken place and are scheduled for the months ahead. Last spring, teens participated in Dominic Chambrone’s hands-on sneaker art workshop. A lawyer and an accountant came to speak, as did a club alum who was interning last summer at Disney. Teens had a chance to ask questions about these specific careers paths and the day-to-day experience of these jobs. The goal is for Career Launch to host six such presentations each year. Up next? A career panel with a nurse, a fireman and a police officer.

Also scheduled are bi-monthly workshops, which will alternate with College Bound workshops. Earlier this year, more than 50 students participated in the Oji Life Lab “Journey to the Center of You” program, which is a self-reflection workshop with personality assessments.

“Oji Life Lab takes a hands-on approach,” explained Teen Director Nick Haley. “Teens work in small groups and individually to tackle topics ranging the value of money to the meaning of life, from managing teams to managing emotions. We look forward to doing more with the lab.”

In terms of the nuts and bolts of career preparation, the Teen Services team helps with resume writing, filling out job applications and preparing for job interviews. “Two of our students recently were offered jobs locally, at Sonoma Cinemas and Basque Bakery, and they credit the help we gave them,” said Haley.

In order to participate, teens must agree to meet regularly with Martinez and to attend a set number of workshops and career or college tours each year.

In its fully fleshed out form, Career Launch will provide job shadowing, internships and entrepreneurship opportunities. First up in the latter category is the club’s new Pretzel Cart, which traveled to several local events last summer. “The teens who ran the cart got a taste of business planning, budgeting, marketing and sales,” explained Haley. The cart was made possible thanks to Gary Edwards' involvement with chef Guy Fieri’s “Cooking With Kids” foundation.

So how will the club measure the success of this program? CEO David Pier explained that the club closely monitors the number of its teen members who are on track to graduate from high school and graduate with a plan for future education or a career; the number of professions each member is exposed to; and how many Career Launch students secure employment.

Meanwhile, the club is looking to the community for ideas and support for the career field trips, internships, mentorships and to come in and share their career experiences. Said BGCSV Program Director Margie Doran, “For a variety of reasons, not every kid is college bound. But every teen deserves the chance to explore what options are out there for them, be it college or a great job right out of high school. Our goal is to expose teens to as much as we can and help them come up with a concrete action plan for life after high school.”