Like a Boss

Posted by Rachel Vogel-Quinn on Jan 25, 2017 5:05:05 PM


Gil Gonzalez-Jacob still remembers what he wore to his first real job interview nearly four years ago: a blue dress shirt with a bow tie and black slacks. Sitting beside him, Gil’s mother talked him up to the interviewer in Spanish. “She was pretty much interviewing my mom for me,” he says with a laugh.

But he was glad for the extra support, since this was going to be his first real job, after working random one-day jobs around the area since he was 12. Growing up with his father in prison, Gil was often nervous and unsure of himself around adults.

Today, Gil is outgoing, confident with his peers and with adults. He talks like a 17-year-old, with a false tone of apathy, but his passion for the subject shows through. 

Gil attributes a lot of that confidence and eloquence to his three years with the Summer Youth Employment Program, which is funded by United Way of Central Iowa in collaboration with other community partners. The program provides young people ages 14-21 with work-readiness training, employment mentors, and a positive work experience—all while developing their job skills, raising their confidence, and building a support network.


Fighting for the Prosperity of All Central Iowans

The OpportUNITY Summit in January brought together educators, employers, and community service organizations to offer sector-specific insights on Youth Career Readiness Programs in central Iowa. 

Youth Career Readiness is a powerful tool for expanding opportunity, often leading to higher graduation rates, better future employment prospects, and increased earnings later in life

Learn more about OpportUNITY

Many of the young people accepted into the program have barriers to employment; they are from low-income households or have disabilities. They live at a time when it’s difficult to get a job as a teenager. Youth employment has dropped more than 20 percent in the past 15 years.

Teens who do get a job, especially economically disadvantaged males, are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to attend college, and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.

EKDC-1.jpgThe Summer Youth Employment Program reinforces job and personal skills with classroom and workplace components. For the first two weeks, students receive work-readiness training and learn about appropriate workplace behavior, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. Then, each student is matched with a participating employer, where they work for 20 hours a week for 8 weeks. The program provides each student a stipend over the summer, as well as their own mentor and weekly meetings with the rest of the group to reflect on their experience.

For his first two years in the program, Gil worked at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, where he learned about the environment, Iowa history, and the deer population, even getting a heart-pounding ride with a game warden. Most importantly, he experienced what government employment was like.

“I learned a lot about jobs: How jobs are created through the government, and how people perceive the government through the jobs they work.”

Last summer, Gil took his skills to Broadlawns Medical Center in the IT department, where he learned how to build a computer. But the biggest lesson from his summer there was about health care itself: “I learned how important hospitals are to a working civilization.”

Gil credits the employees of Broadlawns and the Iowa DNR with being exceptionally good teachers and mentors.

“The people the program connected me with knew that we weren’t going to be at 100 percent the whole time,” he says. “They knew they needed to teach us, and that’s one thing I applaud the program for.”

Over the course of the program, Gil has seen a change in himself and his peers. “They are calmer because they have work experience and because they know what the world wants for them.”


Gil says that, without the Summer Youth Employment Program, he never would have learned how to be a leader.

Now he dreams of being a boss.

After graduating from East High School this May, Gil plans to start his own cattle-import business. Eventually, he hopes to diversify into retail, real estate, and other holdings so that economic swings won’t affect his business. In 30 years, Gil sees himself as an entrepreneur and executive who can spend his whole day on the phone—building relationships with co-workers and clients.

If that happens—and there’s no reason to doubt it will, given Gil’s charm and work ethic—he may just have the Summer Youth Employment Program to thank for his start.

“You learn so much through the program,” he says. “It teaches us to do more, instead of just hanging out all day. You learn to create instead of to consume.”

Learn More About  The Summer Youth Employment Program