Driven O.C. Twins Get Help Landing First Jobs From Youth Employment Service in Costa Mesa

Photograph by Kyle Monk.
Photograph by Kyle Monk

Ivanery and Iridyan Jimenez are like many twins: They finish each other’s sentences, and they offer each other help before being asked. With the dream of taking their first trip to Mexico to see family, these Costa Mesa sisters were so eager to get their first jobs that they wanted to start looking when they were only 15. Already accustomed to working hard—they volunteer, play sports, have internships, participate in the Costa Mesa Police Department’s Explorer Program, and take surf lessons—they needed to earn money. So how do teens start on their first chapter of work life?

The sisters turned to the Youth Employment Service in Costa Mesa, which provides that help. The nonprofit offers people ages 16 to 24 training for free—regardless of their education level or where they live. Participants go through workshops that cover job skills, personal finance, and mock interviews, often conducted by volunteers from the business community.

The girls’ mother, Remedios, was a volunteer at YES and took her girls there.  “YES is super helpful with getting jobs and getting kids exposed to the work force,” Ivanery says.

More than 200 employers partner with the organization, in hopes of  reducing Orange County’s youth unemployment rate—29.3 percent for 16- to 19-year-olds and 11.5 percent for those 20 to 24. The service has helped about 50,000 young people since it was founded in 1970, and it boasts that 88 percent of its graduates are successful in getting jobs.

Executive director Wendy Weeks is a warm woman whose relaxed manner seems to put clients at ease. She believes the program’s greatest strength lies in helping young people build confidence so they don’t fear interviews. It also helps them learn to budget. “We’ve had many of our alumni come back and say ‘That was one of the best parts you could have told me about,’ ” Weeks says, referring to the financial advice.

This was not lost on the Jimenez twins.

“A lot of teenagers really like spending money on food and going out to eat. We can eat at home,” Iridyan says.

“We also saw that people making their own money didn’t have to depend on someone to buy them something,” adds Ivanery. “We felt embarrassed to ask our mom for money. We should be making our own if we’re old enough to work.”

After completing the workshops, the sisters applied for some of the more than 230 openings posted to the job board. One of the four YES employees gave them a lead on positions at a company in Irvine that takes surveys of customers after they’ve seen movie trailers. The girls interviewed there and were hired immediately.

Ivanery says the survey job can be challenging, as people don’t want to participate or they walk away. But there are upsides. Besides learning about customer service, the twins have learned to be more gracious to others.

“You’re talking with different people all the time, which makes it interesting,” Iridyan says.

And their mother appreciates that they’ve learned the value of money. The sisters made that first trip to Mexico in July.
“They bought their tickets and their passports,” Remedios says with amazement. “They bought everything.”

Now 17, the twins are seniors at Samueli Academy in Santa Ana and will be in the first class to graduate from the school in the spring. They started soccer practice in September and needed to find work closer to home. So they returned to YES to look for new jobs.

“Our clients can use our services all the way up until they turn 24,” Weeks says. “They could look for a job eight years in a row from 16 to 24, if they wished. Many will seek seasonal job assistance while in high school, possibly while in college, and then come back yet again to see what types of jobs can help them start their careers.”

Weeks wants to expand the program by taking the services into communities beyond Costa Mesa and creating new partnerships with other nonprofits and schools.

Ivanery found it particularly helpful to learn how to write a statement of purpose. “When they (prospective employers) asked you to tell them about yourself, I didn’t know what to say. I wrote that (statement) at YES, and they gave us feedback.”

“That’s often the first question in an interview,” Weeks says. “So we make sure that by the time they leave the employment skills workshop, they’re very comfortable knowing what to say off the top of their heads. And if not, they know what to practice.”

The twins are confident about finding another job, and they point to their recent work experience as key. They hope to go to Vanguard and perhaps pursue careers in law enforcement. But in the immediate future, they have a new goal: an annual trip to Mexico to see their cousins.

They will each apply to different companies this time, but they respond almost in unison when asked what their ideal job might be. “I think I would choose an ice cream shop or something like that,” Ivanery says.

“I think that sounds fun, too,” Iridyan says. “Like Yogurtland.”

Fortunately for these teens, YES is considering adding Yogurtland to its list of partners. We know who will be excited to see that on the job board.

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