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Teens Transformed by Job-Training Program : Education: Students say they gained confidence and vital skills from the We Care project. 'I learned a lot about the adult world,' one says.


GLENDALE — Six weeks ago, about 60 teen-agers, wary and uncertain, lined the walls of a room in an abandoned Glendale bank as Linda Maxwell and Jose Quintanar promised that if they participated in the We Care . . . For Youth jobs training program, it would change their lives.

At the graduation ceremonies last Thursday, when Quintanar asked the 40 or so teen-agers present whether that promise had been kept, they stood in a courtyard at the Glendale Galleria with pride and confidence. Without hesitation, they affirmed their satisfaction.

"Gradually, I was going downhill," said Fredy Mata, a 16-year-old who attends Allan F. Daily High School. "And (the program) . . . made me turn around; gave me some incentive to get somewhere."

"I feel better because I learned a lot," said Joanne Lee, 16, who also attends Daily, a continuation school. "I know what I want. I know how to get what I want. I learned so much I would never have known."

"I think I got more confident," added Glendale High School student Tigranui Keshishyan, 16. "I learned a lot about the adult world. Before the program, I didn't know about interviews and how to do a (job) application. When the program first started, I was afraid to talk."

Mata, Lee and Keshishyan are the second group of teen-agers to graduate from the free We Care program at the Galleria.

Maxwell and Quintanar, the program's founders, recently graduated another group at Montebello Town Center.

The Glendale-area teen-agers went through two hours of classes every evening Monday through Thursday for three weeks, with final testing and graduation the last week of May.

Divided into three groups, they worked with volunteers from the state Employment Development Department doing mock interviews and learning how to fill out a job application.

With other volunteer teachers, they worked on attitudes and goal-setting. They were taught how to draw up a schedule and how to dress for the adult world. They learned how to deal with prejudice. But more than anything, they learned how to feel good about themselves.

"There's a lot of things that I've wanted to do, but I just gave up," Lee said. "Now I know I can do it, if I put my mind to it."

Mata heard "a new message for self-esteem, the way the world really is, and you can conquer it if you set your mind to it."

"They built a confidence in me so I can go to an interview and fill out an application," Keshishyan said.

All three teen-agers frequently quoted their instructors, often prefacing their comments with such phrases as "it's like they said" or "they told us."

When asked if there was anything she did not like about the program, Lee laughed and complained about "sitting on my butt for two hours."

Neither Keshishyan nor Mata could think of anything negative.

"You're not going to find anyone who will (say anything bad)," Mata said.

Of the approximately 60 teen-agers who showed up for the orientation, 59 signed up for the program. However, according to Quintanar, only 50 showed up for the first meeting the following Monday. Five students left the training midway.

Maxwell said that one girl was asked to leave because she did not comply with the program rules. Not wanting to adhere to program requirements for attendance and appearance is the biggest reason students leave, according to both Maxwell and Quintanar.

Keshishyan is an Armenian immigrant who has only been in the United States for a few years. Formerly grouped with others who do not speak English, she is now in transition classes to eventually join the mainstream of students.

She wants to go to UCLA and either become a dentist or a pharmacist, at least at this time.

"It changes every day," she said with a quiet giggle.

Mata chose to go to Daily because he was having problems in regular school, including ditching classes. Now one of his goals is to get back to Glendale High School and go on to college. He likes science best and is also considering teaching or maybe doing something with the environment. He also wants to learn how to play the guitar and dreams of having a band and going on concert tours. But he sees the need to be practical too.

"It's a future side project. There's people out there who put everything into music and you see them downtown in a cardboard box," he said.

Lee also wants to go to college but is not sure what she wants to study.

"All I know is that I want to help kids out," she said.

Her biggest goal now is turning her life around and getting a job.

Of the teens at the graduation, seven already had lined up jobs at Galleria stores. Another found out he had one within minutes of the end of the ceremony.

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