When Shirley Monzon moved to Lompoc from Los Angeles in her late teens, she had no idea what career path she wanted to pursue.
It was during a routine job search that she said she came across the Youth Career Services program offered by Goodwill Industries of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. After deciding to give the program a shot, she knew right away that she had done the right thing.
“The staff was very welcoming and friendly, and right off the bat you could tell all they wanted was for you to succeed,” she said.
Monzon, now 21, ultimately used the skills and connections she acquired through the program to land a fulfilling full-time job. She shared her story, including how Goodwill’s programs aided her in her journey, with dozens of community members Wednesday during a grand opening celebration for Goodwill’s new Lompoc Youth Center.
“I want to thank the whole [Goodwill] staff for making this possible and for still being my support system because even though I have a permanent position now, I am still part of the program and receive services,” she said. “You have all become a family to me, and without Goodwill I would not be where I am today. I cannot wait to see what my future holds.”
Preparing youth for the future was a major part of Wednesday’s celebration and is a guiding principle behind the new center, which is located in the Goodwill Workforce Services building next door to its retail store at 1009 North H St.
The center is targeting 14- to 21-year-olds who are enrolled in school, and 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in school. The center aims to provide a safe space for those participants to relax, while also serving as a place for youth to utilize Goodwill services and programs.
Many of the programs offered through the center are related to developing job and interview skills. Thanks to partnerships with the Santa Barbara County Workforce Development Board and several private employers, the Goodwill program administrators will help teens and young adults get paid job experience as they continue to determine what type of career path best suits them.
Osvaldo Sotelo, a youth services supervisor with Goodwill, noted that beneficial outcomes don’t always involve the participant landing their dream job.
One participant, he said, entered the program with hopes of becoming a mechanic and had even already enrolled in a mechanic program at an area school.
“We put [the participant] to work at a mechanic shop, and two weeks later he comes [back] and guess what? He says, ‘I don't want to do this,’” Sotelo said. “So we try to strive for that eye-opener for them, as well.”
Programs offered through Goodwill and the new Youth Center also include job interview skill development, financial literacy courses offered with assistance from Wells Fargo, and a “dress for success” program through which teens and young adults can obtain clothes from the Goodwill store to help them dress professionally for interviews and actual work days.
The center also aims to be a safe haven for teens and young adults in a city that has experienced eight homicides since the start of 2019 and a fatal shooting on Feb. 8 that marked the first murder this year.
Keeping youth safe while also helping them is the ultimate goal, according to program leaders.
“We take pride in being that bridge … to connect them to other services they may need, whether that’s housing or anything that they might need,” Sotelo said. “We’re actually that bridge for them.”
The Goodwill programs are offered free of charge to participants, and criminal backgrounds do not preclude anyone from participating, according to leaders.
A similar youth center is being planned for Santa Maria, Sotelo said.
Peter Marcus, the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, said he was excited to see the Lompoc Youth Center finally up and running.
“The youth are our future … so the more we can do at a young age and help develop these youth, the better our community is gonna be,” he said.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.