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EASTSIDE : Ex-Dropouts Get a 'Jump Start' on Jobs

March 13, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

At a recent job interview session, students enrolled in a mentoring and educational program at Garfield Community Adult School asked banking executives what it would take to secure jobs such as theirs.

One asked how the bank would view a potential employee with a prison record, and how he could put it behind him.

"The answer was: Focus on the present and everything you've done in a positive manner," said Bart Zitnitsky, a Northern Trust Bank vice president who serves on the Operation Jump Start program's board of directors. "They have made the initial step to get back into the program (after dropping out of school). They deserve the credit."

Students in Jump Start are enrolled in the adult school's Alternative Education Work Center to earn their high school diplomas. The nonprofit, 12-week program gives them a chance to meet business executives, take field trips and focus on long-term goals.

Private donations fund the program, which costs about $250 per student. Several corporations have "adopted" Jump Start, providing funding and lending executives to address the students.

At their weekly meetings, the students and Executive Director Rafael Beer discuss time management, setting goals, learning to trust other people and having hope for the future.

"Success is not out of the reach of these students," Beer said. "We help them develop confidence in their own ability to achieve the success they want, while at the same time gain an understanding of the need for becoming socially responsible."

A one-day trip to Stoney Point in Chatsworth provided the students with an exercise in trust. They experienced trust falls: one of them falling into the arms of the rest of the group. And then they went rappelling, which involved working with and trusting others.

"I had my doubts," said student Christina Hernandez, 17. "But I felt more trust after that. Now, I see people and I look at people differently. Before I wouldn't trust them, now, I'll trust them and see if they trust me."

"I believe more in myself than before I went into the program," said Edgar Montano, 18, who hopes to earn his diploma in June.

Montano, who has taken classes at the work center for two years, is one of 15 students from the alternative education program who joined Jump Start last fall. "It helps you think more about goals," he said, adding that he has his sights set on attending a trade school.

One of the program's highlights was last month's mock job interview session at Northern Trust in Westwood. The students dressed up for the session and said they came away with a better understanding of the working world.

"Not everyone had gone through a job interview before," said Ray Chaparro, 19. "We had to learn how to dress, how to behave, how to present yourself in the interview process. They showed us how their 9-to-5 world works."

And the students held their own, the interviewers said.

"They showed some of the responses you want to hear from people who you want to work for you," Zitnitsky said.

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