Mecca Youth’s Journey from Fields to Starbucks

Alejandro Ortega has spent the past six summers working in the fields of the Eastern Coachella Valley. With the help of the Mecca Boys & Girls Club, he was able to get a job this summer in the air-conditioned comfort of the Mecca Starbucks. PHOTO: Tony Aguilar/Coachella Unincorporated

By Tony Aguilar, 
Coachella Unincorporated

MECCA, Calif. — This summer was unlike any other for 17-year-old Alejandro Ortega.

For the first time in six years, Ortega’s summer job was in the air-conditioned indoors and not in the fields of the Eastern Coachella Valley in triple-digit heat. This summer, with the help of the Mecca Boys and Girls Club, Ortega is working at the local Starbucks.

“I’ll never go back (to the fields),” Ortega said, after finding out he got the job earlier this summer.

This opportunity means more to Ortega than to most teens. He helps support a household of eight. Although he hated spending his summers picking fruits and vegetables, it was necessary in order to supplement the family’s income. His diabetic mother is unable to work and stays home to care for his two younger special-needs siblings. Ortega’s father is also unable to work due to a shoulder injury. The burden of providing for the family falls on Alejandro and his sibling.

Like many local farm workers, Ortega followed the crops up to Bakersfield every summer after the local harvests were over.

“There was this other interviewee who I thought did better than me in the group interview, so I really didn’t think I was going to get it, so when I got the call, I was really shocked,” said Ortega. “Next thing you know I was getting on the next bus home, arriving at 3 a.m. and reporting to work at my new job the next morning.”

Ortega attributes his high school AVID class (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and the Mecca Boys and Girls Club for preparing him for the job.

“One of the assignments in our AVID class taught us how to dress and speak properly for interviews,” said Ortega. “And then of course there was Alma (Silva) from the Boys and Girls Club.”

Ortega, an incoming senior at Desert Mirage High School, plans on graduating early. During his semester off, he plans to work and save up money for college.

“I just wanted something better for my kids,” said Silva, the youth and development program specialist for the Mecca Boys and Girls Club. “Even if it was a job working at a fast food restaurant, at least it would be indoors out of the heat and less dangerous work.”

Silva, who picks up donated pastries from the Starbucks in Mecca, decided to ask if there were any job openings there for the teens at her clubhouse. At first she was turned down, but a month later she got a call and quickly assembled a team of five interested students.

“Even if they didn’t get hired, I wanted them to get the experience of a job interview and for them to start developing those skills so they can be better prepared for later on in life,” she said.

Silva is approaching businesses throughout the community with the hopes of helping more young people like Ortega gain employment.

“I’m not afraid to ask. I plan on asking all the local businesses in the community if they are interested in hiring one of our local youth,” she said. “I want my kids to know that there is more to life than the fields in Mecca and the rest of the Eastern Coachella Valley.”

Silva asks that businesses interested in hiring local teens during this school year contact her at 760-396-2380 or meccaclub@verizon.net.

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