Ana Hernandez has only great things to say about Project YES, the Ceres Unified School District agency that has assisted Ceres youth find work for the past decade.
Now 21, Hernandez remembers a time when she was without much hope about her future. Today she is not only majoring in sociology and communications at California State University, Stanislaus, she works as a manager of the Ceres Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor and works as a Wells Fargo Bank teller. She also is an intern helping others at Project YES.
"I went through the program so I love it," said Hernandez.
She remembers stressing over her belief that she would not quality for Project YES as a 4.0 GPA student. But because she came from a low-income family, she qualified. She entered the program as a senior and remembers sweating how to pay for her senior trip and other items her senior year. The staff helped send her on the trip and bought her a new calculator for her calculus class.
"They helped me out so much. That's how I got my job at Baskin-Robbins."
Project YES celebrated its 10th anniversary during a community celebration on April 24. On hand were members of the Stanislaus Peer Art Gallery which brought out art displays.
Over the past decades, it's been estimated at Project YES has assisted 35,000 people. Project YES (youth employment services) is a federally funded program under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) designed to help economically disadvantaged youth overcome barriers to achieving academic and personal success, as well as to find employment.
The Ceres Unified School District, in partnership with the Alliance Worknet (formerly Department of Education and Training), offers educational support and employability training for local youth residing in Stanislaus County. Project YES services are coordinated and managed locally through CUSD's Educational Options Department.
Project YES is primarily geared to help youth aged 17 to 21 but assistance is also offered to adults trying to earn their GED. The agency, led by Dustin Pack, offers mentoring of youth, career exploration, and help preparing resumes and studying for GED tests. Project YES operates a youth career and resource center at the corner of Lawrence and Sixth streets next door to Walter White Elementary School.
One person is on hand to assist youth in the career center, including preparing resumes and applying for jobs online using a number of computers that are available.
"Some people don't know how to even start a resume," said Hernandez. "Some people don't even know you need a resume."
Project YES also offers prospective job applicants some clothing for interviews. Resources also include pajamas for youth with infants or smaller children to help out, as well as some food items.
"It doesn't seem like it has a lot," said Hernandez, "however, one can of tomatoes can make a big difference in one person."
Project YES works in tandem with Ceres Adult Education, which knows no limits on age for those wanting to earn the equivalent of their high school diploma.
Workshops are regularly held to coach youth in how to get jobs, how to move into better jobs or ways to keep a worthwhile job. The program stressed good workplace habits so that a student may end up getting fired for something he or she didn't know was unacceptable behavior.
The program even offers bus passes to assist getting youth to sessions.
The tutoring center is manned by GED tutor Antone Lopez, who routinely helps clients with computer use, resume building and prepare clients for the GED. Clients take an assessment test, then a study plan is generated with lessons and study content. They will retake their assessment and then a GED test is ordered.
"We now are a (GED) testing center so once they are ready for the GED, I sign them up, we pay for them and then they schedule to take their GED test," said Lopez.
Some who are taking the test come with no higher than an eighth-grade background. They are referred through Ceres Adult Ed, study independently, or come to Project YES.
"If some of them come to me with like 20 high school credits, it's going to three to four years to get their high school diploma," said Lopez.
He's found that most kids failed to get their high school diplomas for the lack of family support.
"They just dropped out, they had nobody pushing them to stay in school. I'm getting a lot of kids that are like ninth grade education, tenth grade education. Chronic truancies were the main factor."
Lopez feels his job is motivating them and encouraging them in addition to giving them the right tools.