Today, on the train up to Philadelphia for the announcement of the Summer Jobs+ bank, I had the chance to think about my first summer job and what it meant to me and my family.
I grew up in a modest neighborhood just outside of Los Angeles. It was an industrial community of blue-collar, working people… some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met.
My parents raised me and my six siblings with little money … but lots of love. And the same could be said for the other kids in the neighborhood. We didn’t have much. But we had each other. So to get ahead, we had to work twice as hard, and to find a summer job, we sometimes had to look twice as hard.
In my teens, I worked as an aide in my community supervising and mentoring youth in various programs and delivering lunches to needy students. I also spent a summer working in a library—stacking and cataloging books and helping my classmates select books to read.
I remember feeling very important.
I also remember the dignity that came with that first paycheck.
I met role models during those jobs that helped me become the first member of my family to go to college. And they helped put me on a lifelong career path. I began working with children. Then I helped high school graduates apply to college and get financial aid. From there, I was elected to the Rio Hondo Community College Board in Whittier, the California Assembly and eventually Congress.
And I wouldn’t be the nation’s first Latina Secretary of Labor—if it wasn’t for the summer work experiences I had growing up.
That’s what summer jobs can do for young people—especially in underserved communities. So keeping summer jobs programs alive and well isn’t just part of my job now, it’s personal.