Marketing executive Rebecca Tall Brown grew up in City Heights, but she didn’t have the typical urban experience in one of San Diego’s poorest neighborhoods.

“I was basically raised on a farm,” says Brown, whose father owns City Farmers in City Heights. “We have a horse, chickens and goats.”

Something else was different for Brown: She developed a quirky idea about the world of work.

“My dad he loves what he does,” she said. “When I hit 17, I thought all adults loved their jobs: ‘Why do people hate working?’ Then I realized work is not always fun, and I said to myself, ‘What do I want to do that will be really fun for me?’”

Brown found her way forward by going to college and creating Tri-Line Marketing, her own successful marketing company. This spring, she’ll share the lessons she’s learned about setting her own career path at Career Day, an event sponsored by the City Heights Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit agency devoted to enhancing the quality of life in the neighborhood.

The event, scheduled for May, is the first phase of a new internship program designed to help open the eyes of City Heights kids to new career opportunities and giving them on-the-job training. High-school juniors will listen to the career stories of past and present residents of City Heights. One of the speakers will be Cheng Tan, who’s now owner of KODA Salon in La Jolla. She will talk about the value of internships and mentoring in a community where career guidance has long been missing.

“I started doing hair for my friends in high school, but I didn’t think it would be a very successful job,” said Tan, who was the first member of her family born in the United States, after her parents moved to the U.S. from Cambodia in 1981. “I was never directed in the right way. Without a mentor, I felt like I had a lot of challenges because there was no clear-cut path.”

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That’s why internships are so important, she says. And that’s why they’re part of the new program. The purpose of the program is to expose high-school students living on City Heights CDC affordable housing properties to the world of professional careers beyond the entry-level jobs they know about in their family and community.

“Children in our community have limited access to career professionals,” City Heights CDC Resident Services Manager Sakara Tear said. “Their professional inspiration and horizon is often shaped by their environment, which is often a sea of entry-level jobs, barely making enough to support a family.”

City Heights CDC hopes that through this program students will be encouraged to complete high school and pursue a college degree or vocational training. To do this, they will be preparing City Heights teens by providing them with workshops about writing professional cover letters and resumes. They will also take part in mock-job interviews, and the internship finalists will take questions from a panel.

In the final phase of the program, 10 finalists will be selected to compete for a nine-week internship at the City Heights CDC designed to introduce them to work in a professional environment. At least two students will be chosen and receive stipends and a scholarship. The stipends are crucial so that students can participate in the internships. They need paid work in the summer to help their families, so stipends are the only way they can afford to be interns.

“We want to engage our youth and families in a conversation about career options by exposing them to folks who grew up in this community and are now successful in their chosen careers,” Tear said. “The purpose is to show kids there are many other careers they can pursue. I hope they’re able to find a job that they actually enjoy instead of taking a job just to take it.”

Donate $50 and make a lasting difference in a City Heights teen’s life by supporting a student internship at City Heights CDC this summer. The internships are designed to introduce students to work life and give them a head start on their future careers. Contributions will also be used to provide supportive services for high-school students to encourage them to graduate and be connected to a professional network.

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