STOCKTON — At the age of 17, Maria Palomares already has her high school diploma plus a wide array of options before her, including the potential to enroll at a two- or four-year college.

But Palomares is trying something different four months after graduating from Stockton Unified’s Merlo Institute of Technology.

That different something, for Palomares, has turned out to be a new nine-month program that includes a paid internship and workplace-readiness training offered by the JobRedi Foundation, with classroom work taking place at Humphreys University.

“I heard this was going to help me in the workforce,” Palomares said. “I want experience. They’re giving us resources to show us how to succeed and excel.”

The JobRedi Foundation was established in 2014 by wealthy San Joaquin County businessman Dino Cortopassi and his wife, Joan. According to JobRedi literature, it was founded to provide assistance to high school graduates “who have overcome tough times and want to earn a living wage and get a good job.”

The new internship program at Humphreys is open to applicants from San Joaquin County who have earned their high school diplomas and range in age from 17 to 35.

According to JobRedi, 380 people applied to be in the program’s first cohort, 140 completed the application and 25 made the final cut. Another 25 are considered “on deck” for the program’s next openings.

“We’re teaching them to learn about working, showing up, being on time, taking directions and basic entry-level skills,” said Diane Malcoun, a former director of development at St. Mary’s High School who is JobRedi’s vice president. “This is giving these high school graduates experience in the workforce.”

Two days a week of classroom work at Humphreys already has begun, focusing on oral communication, writing and workplace arithmetic, among other things.

The internships — eight hours a day, three days a week — are slated to begin this month. Students pay nothing to attend the classes at Humphreys and will receive about $300 a week at their internships.

“I consider this a side road into getting into college,” said Melissa Obedoza, a 17-year-old graduate of Pacific Law Academy who is interested in working in a science-related field. “This is still going to college, but it isn’t really a traditional route. But even though it isn’t a traditional route, it’s still a good route.”

On a recent afternoon, that route led to a classroom discussion focusing on interpersonal communication, the goal being to enhance the JobRedi participants’ ability to represent themselves effectively in the diverse workforce they soon will enter.

“Most of the time, people lose their positions not because they don’t know how to do the job but because they can’t get along with others,” said class instructor, Cynthia Becerra, who is dean of undergraduate studies at Humphreys University.

“One of the things that we want to talk about is improving those skills so they can be successful in managing conflict or issues that may arise, not only in their personal lives but also in their professional lives.”

Standing before her JobRedi classmates last week, Palomares discussed how awareness of cultural differences might benefit her in a job in early-childhood development, her chosen field of employment.

“When we are trying to communicate with people from different backgrounds or ethnicities than us, it is hard because we don’t know where they come from,” Palomares said, speaking before her classmates.

“For example if you’re talking to a child and they’re not looking at you in the face you may think that’s rude, they should look at me in the face. But in their culture that’s not how it works and that is being disrespectful.”

Such realizations, Becerra said, are at the heart of JodRedi’s effort to prepare participants for the array of situations they may encounter in their upcoming internships, not to mention their future careers.

“These are kids who need guidance,” said Malcoun, referring to the JobRedi participants. “They have the advantage of having coaches to help them. It’s what employers tell us they want.”


Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.