Steven Perez chuckles at his transformation since receiving job preparation training through Archdiocesan Youth Employment Services, a non-sectarian program under Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.A year ago, the long-haired teenager with the shy smile was having his picture taken for a mock job interview as part of his AYE work readiness training. Last week, the 19-year-old — sporting short hair and a new-found confidence — was applying for one of the 500 paid internships through AYE’s L.A. City Summer jobs program at locations that include St. Vincent Medical Center, L.A. County Superior Court, Watts Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club and L.A. County Parks and Recreation.“AYE has taught me a lot of things, like time management and job searching skills,” said Perez. “It’s helped me develop myself to be a better person. I learned how to be more professional.” Sponsored by the City and County of Los Angeles, foundation grants and private donors, AYE has served over 85,000 disadvantaged young people with job training, employment, counseling and referral services since 1965, when the U.S. Department of Labor approached the Archdiocese of Los Angeles about running a federally-funded job training program as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Today, demand for AYE’s services is soaring, due to high youth unemployment and lack of opportunities and career guidance for young people living in economically depressed areas of Los Angeles. AYE and its network partners offer an array of job and career services with full and part-time job placement opportunities in firms, nonprofits and public agencies. “We’re not a welfare program; we provide job training and education,” noted Robert Gutierrez, AYE’s director for the past 37 years. “We provide vocational training for those out of school and out of work, and we offer job preparation and life skills workshops, paid internships and other support services” to young people from ages 17-21 in the year-round program and ages 14-21 in the summer. Gutierrez estimates that the unemployment rate for this age range is about 40-50 percent in the communities AYE serves in L.A.’s Central, East and Southeast communities.“These are young people who would like to work but simply can’t find a job or who don’t even pursue trying to find a job because they don’t see any hope,” he said. Some 2,000 young people go through AYE’s program annually while an additional 1,500 receive referral and placement assistance. This is accomplished in spite of decreased federal funding for social investment programs, including education and job training, over the past decade.“We leverage our limited resources with partnerships with public education, community and faith-based organizations, so we all work together to make it happen,” said Gutierrez, who plans to develop a volunteer program to help with tutoring and marketing. “Most of my staff is stretched fairly thin these days,” he added. AYE currently operates five youth resource centers in Central, Southeast and East Los Angeles as well as the Antelope Valley.Locally, AYE collaborates with many organizations, including Los Angeles Trade Tech College, Los Angeles Unified School District, Covenant House, Homeboy Industries, Salesian Boys & Girls Club, UAW-Labor Employment & Training Center and the University of Southern California. Among private foundations supporting AYE are Bank of America, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Fred & June MacMurray Foundation and the William H. Hannon Foundation.“It’s very exciting when you hear the amazing success stories of some of the young people who have come through our program,” said Gutierrez. He cited as an example a 2012 AYE participant, Britany Lewis, who surmounted a period of family homelessness to achieve scholastic success resulting in a full scholarship to UC Berkeley. “When you’re talking to youth, they know when you care,” commented Gutierrez. “You can see the transformation; you can see them flourish.” Eighty-five percent of AYE youth enter post-secondary education or employment, based on information from follow-up interviews done a year after youth exit the program.“I think that these types of services are some of the most cost effective investments we can make for young people because it makes education relevant,” said Gutierrez, who noted that AYE prioritizes academic achievement by helping youth graduate, obtain their GED, or pursue advanced education. “It helps clients get back into school and gain work experience,” said Marifel Garcia, 21, a former AYE client who was later hired as an intake clerk and receptionist. “When they join the internship, it’s something they can put on their resume. That’s something I gained, and I also gained employment.”“This is a great place for youth to gain experience,” noted Maria Murillo, work readiness training instructor. “It’s a first job for most of them. They can find out if it’s related to what they want to do. If they want to become a lawyer, they can be placed at a law firm. If they want to be a nurse, they can be placed at a hospital.Murillo helps them with their resumes, cover letters, thank-you letters and practice interviews. “A lot of them are nervous whenever they’re going into their first interviews,” she said. “But after they go through ten of the most common questions that are asked, they feel a lot more confident.”Selin Gomez, 18, who recently completed work readiness with Murillo and was at AYE’s downtown L.A. office last week to talk to one of the coordinators for job placement, told The Tidings that the most important thing she had learned so far was how to write a resume.“I was confused about it,” admitted Gomez. “I learned how to organize the resume for a job and how to prepare for an interview, which I’m really nervous about, but I think I can do it correctly in the appropriate way and perform well.”Ivony Quinteros, 19, also waiting to speak with a job placement coordinator along with her 17-year-old brother, Jose, said she has benefitted from being in AYE’s year-long program.“They helped me by teaching me how to dress when having an interview and how to answer questions in the proper way without speeding up or saying slang words,” said Quinteros, who found out about AYE from her classmates at Los Angeles High School. “They’ve prepared me pretty well, and now I’m going to get an interview in about two days to get [a park] job and help kids out. “It’s a great program,” she added. “More kids should come here to get more opportunities and experience to be prepared for reality.” To learn more about AYE, including opportunities to volunteer or donate to its Oct. 3 fundraising dinner and silent auction at the Hyatt Regency in Los Angeles, visit or call (213) 736-5456.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0802/aye/{/gallery}