Career fair shows troubled teens a path to future

Published: Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2B

Second chances don't typically line up waiting to talk to kids inside Sacramento County juvenile hall.

But that's what Thursday's career and resource fair looked like to teens like Carlos, who eagerly approached each booth set up inside the gym of the youth detention facility.

"This will help me think about what I want to do," Carlos, 17, said. "This gives me something to look forward to."

It was the first career fair in recent memory for the court school program operated by the Sacramento County Office of Education.

The brainchild of Darlene Furtado, a special education technician in the county education office's WorkAbility Program, the career fair brought in a dozen vendors, including Wyo Tech, Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps and a Paul Mitchell cosmetology school. It was a joint partnership between SCOE and the Sacramento County Probation Department.

"This is important because it's so necessary," said Furtado, who used to work on special education assessments for students in the court school program. "These kids made mistakes, but they can turn their lives around."

Groups of teens were brought in by their teachers and facility staff for 20-minute sessions. Many of the teens made a point to ask questions and take promotional material from each booth.

The 180 youth inmates are at the facility for a range of reasons, including awaiting court appearances, serving sentences or awaiting placement in a group home. Only those housed in general population units attended Thursday's career fair.

They wore the standard-issue blue pants and gray sweat shirts. A handful proudly wore gold sweat shirts awarded for good behavior and grades.

In one session, a group of girls huddled around Victoria Johnk, an admissions high school representative for Paul Mitchell The School – Sacramento on Arden Way.

"They were all 'This is what I want to do,' " Johnk said. "This is a fast-paced program. You can get out and make a living."

Johnk's booth was popular with boys too, some of whom admitted they just wanted to talk to the attractive 25-year-old.

Army recruiter Attica Roper towered over many of the juveniles, who were as young as 13 years old.

"I tell them the first step is to get out of here and never come back," Roper said. "If I can get them not to come back, that would make my day."

Roper said he told teens that even though they are locked up now, they still could join the Army if they clean up their act.

"There are some leniencies toward juvenile offenses," Roper said.

Earl, an inquisitive 14-year-old, said he was making the most of the career fair.

"They are trying to give us a second chance and I appreciate that," said Earl, who is awaiting a group home placement. "It has people thinking there are opportunities out there.

James, 17, said he enjoyed talking to an art institute about his interest in animation.

"They told us about the career fair this morning," James said.

Vicki Talo, a case manager for a youth program run by the North State Building Association, said programs that reach out to troubled youths are critical.

"I was one of these youths," Talo said. "I overcame a lot. If I can do it, so can they."

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Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez

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