OYA Forges Connections Between Youth, Business Community

A Eugene-area professional’s visit to a residential program will be the first of many networking opportunities for the youth.

Above: Ashley Espinoza of Latino Professional Connect with several youth she met at Haag Home.

By Rolando Ramirez
OYA Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations

The Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR) and the Haag Home residential program in Junction City recently invited a representative of a Latino professionals organization to visit the home, meet with youth, and begin forging connections that could potentially lead to future mentoring or employment opportunities.

For the past eight months, I have been attending the monthly Latino Professionals Connect (LPC) meetings at various business locations throughout Eugene. My goal has been to network with community partners who have the potential to become OYA volunteers or mentors for the youth we serve.

I’ve been talking with the professionals at these meetings about how they can support youth who have been in trouble or are heading that way — how they can let these youth know that somebody cares about them.

We also are looking for ways to help businesses look beyond just the criminal record of youth applying for employment, and to look at young men and women for who they are and what potential they bring to the company.

On Jan. 24, Ashley Espinoza, president of LPC, visited Haag for what we hope will be the first of many networking luncheons and related activities that will allow youth to build bridges to the professional world.

In addition to leading LPC, Espinoza is a sector strategy director for Lane Workforce Partnership, a nonprofit that pursues and invests resources to improve the quality of the workforce in Lane County.

Haag Home

Tony Husske of Haag Home (right) talks with Ashley Espinoza during a networking session.

The visit began with two youth who reside at Haag Home leading Espinoza in a tour. Then, everyone moved to the dining area for a networking session, followed by a home-cooked Mexican meal, prepared by Espinoza.

At the tables, each of the youth, staff, and guests introduced themselves. This gave everyone the opportunity to learn a bit more about each other. It was encouraging to see the enthusiasm and hear the youth share about themselves and their hopes of the future.

Espinoza then shared what she does in her work and her LPC role, as well as what she hopes to bring to Haag Home and the youth there. In particular, she was interested in how she and LPC could assist with two of the biggest items youth said they need: employment and mentors.

Haag Home

OYA and Haag Home staff and youth with Espinoza.

Tony Husske, executive director of Haag Home, said Espinoza came across as “very real and down to earth,” which helped her connect immediately with the youth.

“Not only can she be a positive liaison with potential immediate employers, but she can also help us set up meetings and tours with larger businesses that youth might see themselves working for in the future,” Husske said.

“From the time she left our program on Thursday afternoon until I came in again on Monday, she sent me nine emails on things she already had in the works. A lot of times when you have a guest like that, not much happens afterward unless you’re willing to reach back out to them. But she was more than just talk.”

Haag Home

Espinoza plays table tennis with a youth.

We plan to hold more of these meetings on a quarterly basis, and we hope to bring in representatives from area businesses to meet and get to know youth who might be applying for jobs.

The January event would not have been possible without the continued collaboration between Espinoza, Husske, and the OIIR team.

Thank you to all these partners who supported the luncheon:
Tony Husske, executive director, Haag Home
Dan Harris, program manager, Haag Home
Matt Hudkins, treatment director, Haag Home
Jessica Hill, intern, University of Oregon
Keeble Giscombe, manager, OIIR
Mari Gonzalez, office specialist, OIIR
Johnny Demus, youth transition coordinator, Multnomah County OIIR

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