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Most teens envision a life of exploration and excitement after high school – going to college, seeking the career of their dreams, and spreading their wings. For high school graduate Exprinfil, she longed for necessities most of us take for granted:  warm showers, electricity, food on the table, and pursuing higher education.  

Over the last year, Exprinfil has been both the breadwinner and caregiver for her disabled parents and three young siblings. Her father currently suffers from kidney failure, and in 2015, he was declared legally blind. Her mother has circulatory problems in her legs, which prevents her from working. Family members initially provided financial support for the family of six, helping them pay rent for their studio apartment as well as utilities. However, after a couple of months, her aunts and uncles were unable to provide additional support. Exprinfil, though unsure where to begin job hunting, was determined to get her family out of the hardship. 

Exprinfil sought immediate help from The Unity Council in 2018 and instantly found relief through The Unity Council’s Summer Summit, a summer career, and college exploration program. The program, exclusively for Oakland youth and young adults ages 16 – 24 years old welcomes all participants regardless of immigration status. Exprinfil, a DACA recipient, has faced backlash seeking help with college or career exploration, including once being discouraged by a college counselor who told her “you’re wasting your time going to college. You will not find a job anyway because you do not have papers.”  

During her participation at Summer Summit, she underwent job training, resume and communication skill building and became an intern for District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo.  She was thrilled to bring home her first check and used the funds to pay for groceries, utilities, and a laptop for her siblings.

In addition, the Summer Summit program connected her with community resources and housing rights advocates, which empowered Exprinfil to take action against the subtenant who ceased water and electricity in her home. Exprinfil and her family were initially afraid to talk to lawyers due to repercussions based on the family’s immigration status, but with the aid of Councilmember Gallo’s office, Causa Justa:: Just Cause, and Centro Legal de la Raza, the family sued the subtenant and successfully won the case.

In April 2019, Exprinfil entered The Unity Council’s STEP (Success, Training, Education, and Planning) program wanting to pursue a job in the healthcare industry. Rather than just during the summer, the STEP program offers case management and year-round support for youth. Youth Career and Financial Coach Jessica Martin-Gonzalez helped refresh Exprinfil’s soft skills, update her resume and cover letter, and fostered Exprinfil’s interest in pursuing nursing.  Martin-Gonzalez advised her to attend a health job fair, and Exprinfil left the event with a job offer as an on-call clinical office assistant at La Clínica de la Raza.

La Clínicastaff were immediately impressed by Exprinfil’s tenacity and work ethic that she was offered a full-time position after working there for a few days. On her second week of employment, she received praise for managing the office on her own as if she was a seasoned employee. She now is getting a first-hand look at working in the health industry.

Exprinfil credits her success to The Unity Council’s training, diligence to find a career in an industry of her interest, and for pushing her to stay motivated during a stressful period in her life. 

“I’m the first in my family to graduate from high school, and I’m not stopping here,” said Exprenfil.  “I want to let people know that I can do it regardless of my legal status.”

Martin-Gonzalez says Exprinfil is a living example of resilience because while she provided guidance and resources, “she would take the initiative to act on the information that was given to her, which quickly translated into an employment opportunity at a community clinic. I am amazed at how much Exprinfil has accomplished, and I am excited about her future growth and development. “

After experiencing much success from the programs, Exprinfil’s siblings also joined a number of The Unity Council’s other youth programs, including STEP, Latino Men & Boys, and the Summer Summit. Exprinfil is pleased to see her siblings are taking a similar route that has been influential in her life, but would rather see them further their education instead of providing financial support. “I’ve always told them to graduate and focus on school,” said Exprinfil. “My moment will come; it’s just not now.”

Her dream to become a nurse is still as ardent as ever. For now, Exprinfil is utilizing her current role at La Clínica to learn the ins and outs of the industry, which she says will benefit her when she begins nursing school. Martin-Gonzalez does not doubt that Exprinfil will be a fantastic nurse one day.

Exprinfil is currently seeking housing options for her family including applying for Casa Arabella,  the 94 units of 1-, 2-, 3-bedroom apartments co-developed by The Unity Council and East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) which will be available in the fall.

Unfortunately, Exprinfil’s story is not uncommon for local teens and young adults facing financial challenges in their household as a result of the skyrocketing rental market. Through the help of The Unity Council, Exprinfil not only found a job that gives her purpose and provides for her family, but she also found her voice to advocate for her family during a vulnerable time.

“I can’t thank The Unity Council enough for all of the services that make a difference for families like mine.”

The youth workforce programs mentioned in this story are made possible through a $250,000 grant from the Citi Foundation Youth Workforce Fund, a national initiative that is supporting community organizations in key cities across the United States to help them expand their programming and connect low-income youth to a range of employment opportunities. The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities.