City trains students on the job

‘Changing the Odds’ gives youths practical training in professional environment

While she was growing up, Terry Thomas said she would go by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office at 850 Bryant St. and say she could never work there.

But the 18-year-old City College student had a change of heart after working for two months as a secretary in the District Attorney’s Office. Thomas was one of 15 students who graduated from the “Changing the Odds” program on Tuesday, where youngsters who have had some involvement with the criminal-justice system are given an opportunity to get hands-on training working in a professional environment.

For people like Thomas, who wanted to be a real estate agent but now hopes she can either extend her internship into a full-time job or become a correctional facilities officer, the experience has been life-changing.

“When I first started working there I said, ‘Oh I can’t work here, I feel like a snitch,” she said, adding that shortly after starting the job she learned she was really helping people get their lives together. “I love helping people out and I’d love to do it for the rest of my life.”

The students went through three weeks of extensive training learning real-life skills, such as how to dress appropriately in a professional environment and how to treat customers.

Brandon Frank, who found out about the program through his school, went through the same training as Thomas, but he used his newly learned skills to wait on tables at Powell’s Place Restaurant in the Fillmore. His employer said he was impressed with the 19-year-old’s professionalism and work ethic. Frank said his “training can be applied to multiple things.”

About 10 different companies and government agencies, such as Goodwill and the Department of Child Support, hire the students for two months and pay them a “great” wage, according to the students.

Joseph Cole, the youngest participant in this year’s program at age 17, said working at the Department of Child Support gave him self-confidence.

“[It] taught me how to be motivated instead of thinking my job was something I couldn’t do,” he said.

District Attorney Kamala Harris, whose office sponsored the program, said the program is a way for the community to identify the talents of its young people that may otherwise go unnoticed.

“It’s like if you have the ability to play the piano well but nobody knows,” Harris said. “[Then] how will you know?”

sfarooq@examiner.com

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