Boldly Changing Career Access for L.A.’s Youth
Alma Castillo was a rising junior in high school in South Los Angeles. A time when students begin making their college and career plans. When they begin dreaming of their future, of who they want to be and the impact they want to have on their community.
In Alma’s family, money was tight and they struggled to pay the rent and make ends meet, limiting Alma’s opportunity to plan and prepare for life beyond high school. She had no time to “job shadow” or “intern,” or even learn about the vast array of career choices that might be available to her.
In 1998 she founded UNITE-LA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. UNITE-LA prepares underserved students with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to succeed in college, career, and civic life. Working with private businesses and the City and County of Los Angeles, UNITE-LA helps students from low-income backgrounds find transformational summer work and paid internships.
“We work closely with students from historically marginalized communities where students would not normally have access to the employer partners we work with or to the career pathways that UNITE-LA makes available to them through jobs or internships,” says Bridget Netter, senior vice president of programs and talent development. “Our programs help build their confidence and develop their social and economic mobility.”
UNITE-LA’s dynamic career pathway programs include:
L.A. Youth At Work where young adults (ages 16-24) are trained by private sector employers with skills for entry-level employment,
Real World of STEAM which provides career exposure/awareness to high-demand, high-wage STEAM careers,
South L.A. Scholars which provides paid work experience in a health care setting for low-income students, and Tech Pathways which connects underserv ed talent to careers in technology.
All of these programs are free of charge and provide either paid internships, job shadowing or paid work experience. Of the 7,500 students served by UNITE-LA’s college access and career pathways programs this year, many have been placed in rewarding internships with leading employers like Kaiser Permanente, Metro, SNAP Inc., and United Airlines.
“We have tons of talent among young people in Los Angeles,” says Lisa Catanzarite, vice president of research and evaluation. “We’re bringing learning opportunities and professional contact to those who may not otherwise have avenues where they get to learn about what it takes to become a professional in a particular occupation that piques their interest.”
And that’s exactly what happened to Castillo.
“As a first-generation, low-income student, I was given the opportunity to learn about careers in healthcare,” Castillo says. “This influenced me to apply to the public health major for undergrad at UC Berkeley… Where I’m currently a sophomore pursuing a bachelor’s degree.”
“We have big goals,” Catanzarite says. “It’s all about equity and better outcomes… It’s about paving the way to help support young people, capitalize on the talent that is in Los Angeles, and develop that talent and support our community and regional prosperity in L.A.”
Senior Director Strategic Partnerships: Chelsey Holmlund
UNITE-LA’s mission is to ensure the continuous improvement of effective and aligned cradle-to-career public education and workforce development systems in Los Angeles, resulting in all children and youth having access to a high-quality education. We serve to prepare the region’s children and youth for high-skill, high-wage employment in a fulfilling career of choice, with a priority focus on underserved populations.
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I was empowered to delve deep into my potential. The rich resources helped me to land my first professional internship as an operations intern. I gained many professional business skills from my first internship, and it allowed me to reach my full potential in terms of skills such as marketing/sales, management, and project organization. I was in love with the company culture and its community value that I was blessed to work with.
Success is When Talent Meets Opportunity
As part of UNITE-LA’s goals for 2023, they plan on expanding their career pathway programming to include a new Cleantech Academy, offering students exposure and pathways to careers in the environmental and clean energy sectors.
They hope to raise $75,000 from new donors. If UNITE-LA can meet this goal, the Kresge Foundation, a long-time funder of UNITE-LA, has committed to unlock an additional $75,000 in unrestricted funding for the organization.
$1,500: Helps provide a student with a one-year college scholarship
$4,000: Helps a young person to explore potential professions through a 160-hour paid summer internship
Annie E. Casey Foundation
Anthony and Jeanne
Pritzker Family Foundation
Ascendium Education Group
Atlas Family Foundation
Bank of America
California Community Foundation
California Department of Education Community Schools Grant
California Student Aid Commission
Carl and Roberta
Carol and James Collins Foundation
City of Los Angeles – Mayor’s Fund: Hire LA’s Youth
College Futures Foundation
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Evelyn & Walter HAAS Jr. Fund
First 5 LA/Community Partners
Kayne Family Foundation
L.A. Lakers Youth Foundation
L.A. County Department of Public Health – Office of Diversion
L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell
LA/OC Regional Consortium
Los Angeles City Economic
and Workforce Development
Michelson 20MM Foundation
National Skills Coalition
Office of Statewide Health Planning
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
Rattray Kimura Foundation
S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
Sierra Health Foundation
Sobrato Family Foundation
The Ahmanson Foundation
The Alliance for Children’s Rights
The California Wellness Foundation
The David and Lucile
The Ford Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation
The Kresge Foundation
The Stein Family Foundation
United Way of Greater Los Angeles
Valero Energy Foundation
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
W. M. Keck Foundation
Youssef and Kamel