By Lauren Hammit
For Chanta Helton, graduation day in UCSF’s Community Outreach Internship Program felt like reaching the summit after scaling a rocky mountain.
The skills training, mentoring and career coaching the unemployed 30-year-old mother of two received as an intern at UCSF brings her one step closer to fulfilling her life’s dream of becoming a radiologist.
“Because of this program, I am working for an outstanding medical institution, coordinating clinic procedures for UCSF’s Department of Neurology,” Helton said, noting that her colleagues had shown her “generosity and patience.”
Before beginning the program, Helton had lost her job as a shuttle driver and, she said, was “wondering how I would ever get to where I wanted to go.”
Classmates in the internship program looked to Helton to keep them all in check. “Chanta constantly reminded us to show up on time and get our work done,” said Lila Blanco, who interned with the admissions office at the UCSF School of Dentistry.
“She wouldn’t allow any one of us to waste this chance for career improvement,” added Brande Silas, who interned with UCSF’s Department of Radiology.
UCSF created the internship program in 1998 to develop the potential local workforce and provide under-served communities with access to university jobs. The program was recognized in 2009 by University Community Partnerships for excellence. On Oct. 12, the latest group of 16 interns graduated in a ceremony that featured official congratulations from representatives of Assembly Members Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano.
Making a Project Work
All of the interns in UCSF’s Community Outreach Internship Program are parents and CalWorks recipients looking for long-term employment. CalWorks is a California state program that provides temporary financial assistance and employment services to families with small children who fall below the poverty level. Earlier this year, the program, a partnership between UCSF, city and community organizations, was recognized by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for its creation of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“It’s remarkable to witness the good that can come from a shared commitment to making a project work,” said Barbara J. French, vice chancellor of Strategic Communications & University Relations, who oversees the internship program at UCSF. “UCSF is made stronger by the dedication of great employees, and the enthusiasm of these interns will impact everyone they encounter here.”
The program begins with a 10-week computer training class followed by a five-month internship at UCSF that often leads to career employment. Most of the latest graduates have been retained by their departments through UCSF’s Interim Staffing Service. As they work toward career positions, they will receive higher hourly wages, medical benefits and accrue both sick and vacation time.
Damon Lew, interim assistant director of Community Relations at UCSF, attributed the program’s success to “the volunteerism and commitment of our community partners and the UCSF departments that hosted interns and provided mentorship and support.”
Host departments included the Office of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity; Campus Human Resources; Controller’s Office; Department of Family and Community Medicine; Department of Neurology; Department of Radiology; Labor & Employee Relations; Medical Group Business Services; National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; and the School of Dentistry Admissions Office.
Building Skills, Transforming Lives
The goal of the internship program is not only to provide interns with work experience at UCSF, but to familiarize them with complexities of the work environment, such as standards, communications and technology. Interns learn about the wide array of career opportunities available to them at UCSF and gain a clear understanding of the career ladders that lead to their goal.
Based on the reaction of the current group of graduates, that deeper lesson is clearly appreciated.
Damond Wilson joined the program to counterbalance employment gaps in his resume, hoping to strengthen his communication and computer skills as an intern with UCSF’s Medical Group Business Services. At the graduation ceremony, he was recognized as a positive force among his classmates and advised future interns to “stay with the program because it pays off in the end.”
In a speech during the ceremony, intern Dierdre O’Connor said she was thankful for the career coaching she received during the internship, for being chosen to speak during graduation – as well as meet Pelosi – and for the opportunity to work at a medical institution committed to helping patients. A single mom of a daughter with diabetes, O’Connor had struggled in the past with jobs that did not allow her time off to care for her child.
Lila Blanco, who said she was excited to have reached this milestone, receives a framed certificate from Cynthia Franklin, UCSF Human Resources analyst, upon her graduation from UCSF’s Community Outreach Internship Program.
“I feel very blessed to have been given this opportunity to change my life,” said Yasmeen Gonzalez, an intern in UCSF’s Human Resources (HR) department. The 23-year-old mother of two was widely commended by her HR colleagues for her politeness and dedication to getting the job done.
Internship wages were subsidized by federal stimulus funding managed through the San Francisco City and County Human Services Agency. Jewish Vocational Services also partnered with UCSF, providing candidate recruitment, career coaching and JOBS NOW certification. Through JOBS NOW, federal stimulus funds subsidize hiring workers for unfilled city and county jobs. Branch managers from the Union Bank of California Foundation also volunteered to teach the interns about financial planning.
UCSF’s Interim Staffing Service and Community & Governmental Relations are the program’s primary coordinators.
“Today could not have been possible without the help of so many,” Lew said to the packed room on graduation day. “But the most important individuals here are the interns who are now graduates. Because of your commitment and dedication to transforming your lives, you have taken the first step to getting where you want to be.”
Photos by Susan Merrell