Low-Wage Jobs Also Valuable

As the president of Metropolitan Los Angeles Communities In Schools (a member of CIS, our nation's largest stay-in-school program) and long-time resident of the San Fernando Valley community, I feel compelled to express my disappointment with your editorial regarding Universal Studios' plan to develop its property ("Shrinking Universe," June 23).

Since Jan. 2 of this year, we have been facilitating a Universal CityWalk Entrepreneurial Academy, in partnership with Youth Opportunity Unlimited, the Los Angeles Unified School District and UCLA Extension. We bus juniors and seniors from San Fernando and Fremont high schools to Universal, where they are "work site" mentored by middle and senior management at the many diversified venues located at CityWalk.

The young people receive $5.50 per hour for 16 hours of work per week and attend a three-hour class on entrepreneurship every Wednesday taught by a very competent LAUSD teacher.

Finally, the students develop their own company, and own and operate a kiosk at CityWalk. Profits from their efforts will go toward stipends for their higher education and/or new entrepreneurial endeavors they develop.

As I stated at one of the many community meetings in which opposition to Universal's project was voiced, we cannot treat low wage earners as some kind of scarlet letter that creates a "less than" mentality for our community and youth.

If our objective was to keep our youth in these positions, then the argument that Universal's project should be rejected because it will create mainly low-wage jobs would have some validity. But our true objective is for our students to learn how the business world works and to take the job experience they have received at Universal and apply those skills to lofty goals such as owning their own businesses or assuming an executive position like the ones held by their own mentors.

All of us have started our working careers at low-wage jobs. To some extent, that is the American way. Universal is allowing CIS youth to maximize this experience and thus create our city's future entrepreneurs.

Maria Hernandez gave up her senior year of track at San Fernando High School so that she could participate in this program. She has been placed at Gladstone's restaurant since January, and upon graduating from high school last month is now in a management training program at Gladstone's, where she will earn $35,000 to $40,000 within a year's time ... hardly low wage.

We have many success stories like Maria's. Universal has demonstrated to those of us committed to youth that they are prepared to be active corporate citizens as we endeavor to develop America's most important resource our children.

We are confident that while Universal employees, like a lot of us, start at entry-level jobs, they don't stay there. I understand the concerns of residents, but when Dodger Stadium was constructed residents were told to think of the "greater good." This point remains relevant.

I urge the leadership of this great city to say yes to our future, yes to hope and yes to our children's dreams!

ROBERT ARIAS

President

Metropolitan Los Angeles Communities In Schools

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