PORTLAND, Ore. – Alejandra Alvarado, a 16 year-old junior at Grant High School, has been a part of the Boys and Girls Club for most of her life. Still, she was surprised when her brother, a Boys and Girls Club employee, told her about an internship opportunity through a program called YouthForce.
“There's an interview for a job for teens. You're going. I don't care what you say. That's what you're going to do,” Alejandra remembers her brother telling her and her sister Andrea.
The sisters were skeptical. “What's it about?” they asked.
“You have an opportunity to internship with the Timbers,” he replied.
Like that, Alejandra and Andrea were sold.
Since that moment earlier in the year, both Alejandra and Andrea have spent Timbers and Thorns FC match days working with Providence Park guest services. The two sisters, along with 19 other high school aged interns form YouthForce, a career development program of the Boys and Girls Club sponsored by the Timbers and KeyBank.
The YouthForce interns are treated like a full employee of the club’s guest services department. They're paid the same wage, work many of the same hours, and are held accountable for their actions.
“There's positions throughout the stadium where they're put in and they work right alongside everybody else who's been hired to be a guest services attendant,” says Jim Blocher, the coordinator of Providence Park guest services. “There's no difference in what they do. There's no difference in what they get paid. There's no difference in requirements that we have for them. They have the same uniform.”
For teenagers like Alejandra and Andrea, many of whom have never worked a job before, that environment can be both demanding and intimidating.
So when she arrived for her first full day on the job, Alejandra was nervous, worried that she would be unable to answer a patron's question or that she would be lost and not know what to do. Fortunately, her natural curiosity—she says that she pestered her more experienced guest services colleagues with an endless barrage of questions—paid off on her first game day.
“It was a really good first game by myself,” she says. “It was really calm.”
But despite the challenge that can come with such a fast-paced and demanding work environment, it can also have its own share of rewards.
Alejandra says that before she began her YouthForce internship, she and her sister were both shy, keeping largely to themselves in social situations. Now, though, the nature of her work has forced her out of her comfort zone and helped her develop a totally different personality.
“I'm not a shy person anymore,” she says. “I can talk to people. I can smile and be more welcoming...Now [Andrea and I] are kind of like, 'Hello world.' There's a lot of other people that we've gotten to know and made friendships with, like the other people in our group. It's a really cool thing to get to do.”
Blocher agrees with the Alvarado sisters' assessment of the YouthForce program, pointing out all of the young personalities he's seen change throughout the duration of the program.
“To come into a sports environment in a very high-energy environment, [the interns] were kind of timid when they began like many of the adults who come into this environment,” Blocher explains. “What I've seen is the students really grow in self-confidence, able to talk, interact with adults, with guests, very confidently.
“They have gained tremendous respect from the guests,” he adds. “They have gained tremendous respect from their co-workers who work with them.”
The biggest rewards, though, says Alejandra, come from her interactions with the Timbers and Thorns fans.
“I think meeting everybody [is the most rewarding]. Being able to build relationship with so many different people: older people, people your age, and everybody in between.”
Those relationships, along with their relationships with their guest services colleagues, have the Alvarado sisters hoping that they will be able to return to guest services again next season.
And Blocher believes that the YouthForce program will continue to shape the lives of young Portland youth just as did it for teenagers like Alejandra and Andrea this year.
“They really have [opened up],” he says. “Not only have they opened up here but they've opened up at home. They've opened up at school. They've opened up among their peers. It's just been a real positive program for them in every aspect of their lives.”