At New Door, we are grateful to work with more than 130 Ally Partners who provide hands-on work experiences for interns as they enter the workforce. Through our Employment Program, youth have the chance to engage with a range of fields as they envision future career paths. Thanks to our strong community relationships, our robust programs were able to pivot to a virtual environment and evolve to meet the needs of New Door interns. During that time, Juliana Cabrera Peña joined the team as the Business Partnerships Associate, bringing her bright personality and determination to maintaining our local ties. We sat down with her in the office to discuss the prospect of returning to work, both for New Door staff and our youth.
You have a background in youth-oriented work. How did that come to be?
Youth education is my No. 1 priority. I came to San Francisco for my master’s degree in International Studies with a focus on conflict resolution through education in Columbia and discovered that I love education policy work, specifically empowering youth with job readiness. I spent three years at Jewish Vocational Service working with youth with disabilities, but I realized that I wanted to focus on what would be beneficial for youth in the long run – not just getting them from job to job, but thinking about how private entities can enter public sphere to assist youth. That work is happening at New Door. Only at New Door could I directly impact the community by working with the employers to create a mutually beneficial relationship between partners and youth.
What are you looking for in Ally Partners?
The beautiful partners are the ones who aren’t expecting perfection – they’re willing to let interns learn and give them the space to do so. I’m looking for partners who will be a dedicated champion for youth, who will understand that hosting an intern isn’t a black and white experience because life is not black and white. Our partners build a mutually beneficial relationship with their interns.
How is New Door ensuring that youth are represented in back to work efforts?
We are being very methodical about letting youth go back to work. We are not going to stick to the status quo from before the pandemic- we’re hard at work creating policies and lining up opportunities. I’m working with our Ally Partners to understand their COVID policies and confirm that they are complying with our guidelines for intern safety. We’ve also designed a curriculum for youth to learn about COVID precautions and create health safety plans during orientation.
I’m also aware that, here in San Francisco, we have a lot of adults flocking to the area because the minimum wage is so high. It’s my work to make sure youth are considered for available positions and that those jobs don’t cap out at service level or entry level. Programs like StepHire build structures for entry level position to lead to a career.
What have you learned from the pandemic that you’ll be bringing with you to New Door?
That we have to be flexible. Our first responsibility is to the youth and the lesson to learn from the pandemic is that there doesn’t have to be one prescribed method. At New Door, we added individual work plans to our employment program, giving youth the opportunity to earn money while bettering themselves. Simultaneously, we designed virtual internships for more than one hundred interns which created opportunities for youth to build computer skills and be introduced to fields like marketing and customer support. These adjustments have shown us that no industry is set in stone and New Door specifically can continue to work on a case-by-case basis for youth. We, with business partners and donors, must be calm and be flexible.
What keeps you motivated in your new role?
All of the youth. Working with youth feels like my heart is living outside of my body. I want them to succeed. I want them to be better. I want biased systems to be knocked down for them.
Thanks to the hard work of the business partnerships team, our pool of partners is extensive and wonderful. And we’re prepared. In the Bay Area, there is a lot of industry diversity, from the warehouses to the arts to child development – there are so many different opportunities. On a site visit recently I learned interns will be doing 3D modeling for an architect. At others, people are building bikes or working in a restaurant. It’s all very cool and I’m excited for them!