Each year, high school juniors and seniors participate in employment workshops, internships and mock job interviews with local businesses, according to program coordinator Jesse Betancourt.
Thousands of students have participated since 1997, Betancourt said, and this year 500 more will be placed with businesses for sessions of three months, which can be extended depending on the needs of the individual business and intern.
Students also go through mock interviews to sharpen their skills when looking for a job.
The year-round program had its kickoff for the coming year during a meet-and-greet breakfast at Tracy Community Center, 950 East St., on Thursday, March 7, with student and business owners talking about their experiences.
The event also included the presentation of Employers of the Year awards to Jose Diaz of PDQ Promotions Printing and Embroidery, 163 W. 11th St., and Yvonne Macias from InShape Sports Club, 101 S. Tracy Blvd.
“As an employer, having these students with me re-energizes me,” Diaz said. “I bring in about two to five interns per (Hire Me First) session. We don’t use them as labor, but they can assist and learn the job. They can be part of the production process without being part of the production.”
Diaz said state laws restrict him from allowing those younger than 18 to operate certain machinery. They can work in graphics, marketing and sales and sit in on client consultations.
“One thing I do try to do, since they are only here 90 days, is have them start a project from beginning to end,” he said. “You see the smile on their face when they complete their project.”
Chiropractor Kaylin Schack of Tracy Chiropractic, 1458 Bessie Ave., introduced Tracy High School senior Criscobal “Clay” Robles at the breakfast. He was a Hire Me First intern at her office from September to November.
She called the program “a pleasure” and said her office has had 20 to 25 student interns, each working with physical therapists.
Robles, who worked alongside physical therapist Raquel Rodriguez, said he enjoyed the patient interaction and thought the experience could help him enter the field of sports medicine.
“I knew what was going on with them, what hurt them, what didn’t hurt them,” he said. “It was the social aspect of knowing you were helping them. I loved it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Among the 150 or so people who attended the breakfast was Brian Pekari, who participated in the mock interviews. He is also coordinator of Tracy United To Make A Difference, an organization not affiliated with Hire Me First.
“My experience has been that it’s a great program to prepare our youth for the workforce and help them promote their employability,” he said. “The students acquire a better awareness of what employers are looking for in their employees. In the current work environment, Hire Me First offers invaluable training to give the participants a competitive edge.”
For information: 835-2131 or www.hiremefirst.org.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 835-3030 or email@example.com.