Embracing Our Community
A Career Jump-Start for Talented Teens
Oct 07, 2019
Zuri Gonzalez Juarez and Avielle Villamater have never met, but the two 18-year-olds have a lot in common.
Both Angelenos are top students and recent graduates who are bound for four-year colleges. Both grew up with families that immigrated to the United States seeking greater opportunities for their children. And both have been inspired by Cedars-Sinai mentors to pursue careers in healthcare.
Zuri Gonzalez Juarez
Juarez never forgets one of the first things she learned as a teen volunteer at Cedars-Sinai: “Always be ready to help people.”
Everyone in the Volunteer Services office where Juarez volunteers comes to her with projects. Volunteer Coordinator Jessica Maceda has full confidence in Juarez’s ability to provide administrative assistance and excellent customer service to patients, visitors and staff.
Maceda says the teen volunteer program gives young people like Juarez a jump-start in preparing for the professional world. Juarez—who began volunteering at Cedars-Sinai last summer and hopes to continue through college—has mapped out a career path that began this fall at UCLA, where she is studying health science and business. She wants to go on to earn a master’s degree in health administration and pursue a career in finance or management in a hospital setting.
This is just the kind of life her parents had in mind for their children when they emigrated from Mexico two decades ago. Juarez, who was born in Los Angeles and is bilingual, says they have always made sure she didn’t take on too much responsibility at home because they wanted her to excel at school.
She earned straight As at Miguel Contreras Learning Complex in Downtown L.A.—and still found the time to co-found a student club where recent Spanish-speaking immigrants could practice English with supportive peers.
She says her parents are thrilled with her accomplishments at school and at Cedars-Sinai.
“My parents have always worked hard to support me, and I want to work hard to give back,” she says.
Youth Employment and Development Program Participant
The role of MRI technician wasn’t on Villamater’s radar a year ago—but this fall she started training for a career in medical imaging. Her interest was piqued when she was given a chance to assist in MRIs as part of the Cedars-Sinai Youth Employment and Development (YED) program.
Villamater took a bus from Fairfax High School to Cedars-Sinai throughout her senior year to spend after-school hours in the Imaging Department.
“I like what MRI technicians do—they help doctors make the right diagnosis,” says the straight-A student.
For more than two decades, Cedars-Sinai has partnered with Fairfax High, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Regional Occupational Program to provide job skills training, work experience and mentoring for juniors and seniors.
The opportunity led Villamater to enroll in the Radiologic Sciences program at California State University, Northridge, to prepare for a career as an MRI technician.
The money she earned in her after-school job in medical imaging enabled her to pay for her own necessities. She, her single mom and her younger sister live in a rented home near Koreatown with 11 other extended family members—all immigrants from the Philippines.
Villamater remembers struggling to communicate with classmates in English when she arrived in the U.S. at age 11. “Working at Cedars-Sinai helped me develop,” she says. “I didn’t know how to interact with adults at first, and I felt overwhelmed. But everyone treated me like an adult and helped me feel like one of them.”
She’s particularly grateful for the mentoring she received from Cedars-Sinai employees. “They have had an enormous impact on my life,” she says. “They helped me recognize potential I didn’t see in myself, and motivated me to pursue my passion and learn and improve every day.”
Villamater will be the first in her family to earn a four-year college degree.
“It’s a big deal,” she says. “My family is very proud.”