LOS ANGELES — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District’s Special Emphasis Hispanic Employment Program Committee highlighted Hispanic Heritage Month with a special presentation on Oct. 15. While the event marked the close of the official remembrance, it featured a group that is dedicated to new beginnings.
The group, founded in 1995 by Sister Eileen McNerney in Santa Ana, Calif., was named for St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers. The word “taller” is Spanish for workshop; St. Joseph’s Workshop becomes “Taller San Jose.” In her bio, McNerney said she decided that the crush of poverty was at the heart of the gang violence she was witnessing in her neighborhood. She has dedicated herself to developing programs to move young people from violence to productivity.
Representing Taller San Jose were Art Guerrero, outreach coordinator, and Raul Guzman, program manager for construction and green technology. According to Guerrero, their programs have enjoyed a great deal of success with 92 percent of their students with a criminal record, not reoffending after completing the program. He shared with the audience that they each have the opportunity to contribute to the success of these young people.
“By understanding the challenges, the difficulties that a lot of these young people have, [remember] they all have potential,” said Guerrero.
TSJ has operated a construction program for eight years now and according to Guzman it has a rigorous application process.
“We have three sessions a year and we receive 120 applications,” said Guzman. “Out of 120, we can accept only 20.”
The applicants attend an orientation and several will drop out at that point, added Guzman. Then “Tests for Adult Basic Education” are administered and they lose a few more. The interview process eliminates several with mandatory drug testing making the largest impact on the equation. Ultimately, they end up with a pool of 30 applicants to choose 20 for each class.
“We recently had a graduation, we only graduated 10 students,” said Guzman. “The problem is it’s not for everyone. We have the same expectations that an employer does and that is; they need to be there on time every day, motivated and ready to work.”
Guzman added that to make a difference in the world today, his message is simple; get involved. Don’t re-invent the wheel but make yourself available as a mentor and share your skills, he said.
“They are very excited at the prospect of bringing their students out to Prado Dam,” said Jennie Ayala, District Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program manager. “It will help their students understand that their training can lead to work on significant projects that serve and protect our communities. And it reinforces the importance of STEM education and careers.”
Ayala added that the work the District is already doing in youth outreach through STEM with partner organizations like Great Minds in STEM, through STEM-up and programs such as the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference, the Corps can certainly share skills and introduce even more young people to the concept of, “BUILDING STRONG and Taking Care of People!”