EL CENTRO — While paid summer internships for freshly graduated high school students are not the norm in the Imperial Valley, the Fred Finch BEST (Behavior Education and Skills Training) program managed to have 80% of its pilot program group finish the program, with 50% leading to jobs working within the organization locally.
That is the result of the nonprofit, Fred Finch Youth & Family Services, BEST pilot program previously covered by The Desert Review at the start of the program. The summer internship pilot program was created through a $14,700 grant – awarded to Fred Finch by San Diego’s Foundation for Developmental Disabilities – for newly graduated Southwest High School students of the career technical education (CTE) mental health pathway to be trained as behavioral technicians through Fred Finch.
The BEST program taught the students 64 hours of training, in English and Spanish, between June 13 and July 8, according to a press release and SHS CTE teacher, Jackie Valadez. The program was open to SHS graduate students who were 18 years old by the start of the program.
“The training that they went through in the program is actually the training that we give our new hires,” said Britney Medrano, Regional Clinical Supervisor, an Imperial Valley native working for the Bay Area-based Fred Finch’s local El Centro office.
Valadez the students were “really excited to apply their knowledge and seek employment” through Fred Finch.
“They really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the job shadowing portion of the program because they were able to see first-hand what the job itself entails and how to conduct yourself doing those job duties,” Valadez said, “and they can carry that on with them throughout their career or use it as a stepping stone to further grow in behavioral health or health science.”
“Some of them are going through the hiring process, taking their assessment test, and applying to work (at Fred Finch),” Valadez said.
“Because they received the certification they're able to start the job in Step 2, so that's really exciting,” Medrano said.
Medrano said she was “very surprised and impressed” by the knowledge the Southwest graduates had coming into the BEST program/their Fred Finch training, saying “these kids were so above and beyond.”
“I think everyone felt that general good vibe from (the program),” she said. “They seemed excited, they learned good knowledge, and got to shadow with some my actual clients. It took it to a different level.”
“In general it all went very, very well, and because it went so well we're currently talking about expanding the program and how we can do that with other schools,” Medrano said.
Roger Rascón, a behavioral technician with Fred Finch who was job shadowed by SHS graduate Kalev [pronounced similar to “Caleb”] Ceballos, said “it was a pleasure having them there.”
“Just to see and feel how serious they were taking it and how committed they were to the program was not only humbling but reassuring that future generations are focusing on things that we need now, like mental health,” Rascón said.
Rascón said young Kalev was “really enthused, excited, and made a good connection with the client” as Rascón went through his daily work routine, showing Ceballos his daily preparation for aiding his clients, how to conduct applied behavioral analysis and other methods to help the Fred Finch client gain more independence.
Rascón said Fred Finch helps by teaching independent life skills, self-help, safety awareness, and more to their clients, which are children with neurological-developmental disabilities such as Autism, Downs Syndrome and other similarly challenged individuals, serving children as young as ten months old to 17 years old.
Rascón said the BEST program is “a good way” for mental health career-oriented students who might want to work with children in their career to “test that hypothesis.”
“Programs like Fred Finch's BEST program allow these opportunities and these children to grow, to have that outlet to be able to understand what it means to help others,” he said. “It opens up a wide range of careers and jobs that they can take ... that way we start kind of guiding them to reach their potential, gather as many tools as possible and as much knowledge as necessary for them to prepare themselves to serve others.”
His job-shadower, Kalev Ceballos, agreed.
“I really did like the program,” the teen-grad said.
“It gave me a better perspective about how these kids really need a lot of help,” Ceballos said. “A lot of people like to downplay them and don't see these types of people as people, they see them as 'malito' and things like that, but I got to see them in a different light and see that this program is really good for helping these kids.”
“It's one thing hearing about it but when you actually get to see it and get to see how great these kids are and how much help they need, it really just like makes everything better for you to get to see it in person,” he said.
“It kind of opened my eyes to those doors,” Ceballos said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Medrano, Rascón and Valadez agreed that they hope the program can continue through more funding, hopefully spreading the BEST opportunity to more local schools and larger than a 10-student cohort in the future.
“I think we need to spread it as far as we can to give the opportunity to other students that might benefit from it,” Rascón said, “and if not, it works as an opportunity for them to try something new.”
“We always say that 'The youth is the future' and 'Youth will bring the change,' but I feel like we have to do our part in the present and set them up for success,” he said.
Rascón said parents, the community, school districts, Fred Finch, donors and more need to come together so “all of these support systems” can “impact youth development and growth, so they can one day come back and give back to their community.”
Fred Finch hopes to train and employ more behavioral technicians through future iterations of the BEST program to fill the large gap of need for their services for developmentally challenged children within the Imperial Valley, Medrano said.
“It's great to see at such a young age they're determined, willing to learn, and willing to take risks … that they learned, paid attention, and they were excited,” Rascón said.
“I was really proud of them,” he said.
For more information on Fred Finch Youth & Family Services visit fredfinch.org. To inquire about donating to future BEST programs, contact their Development Department by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-482-2244.