By JENNA JONES     7/27/2015

Brenda Mendoza was exhausted from long hours of working the graveyard shift in a warehouse in Santa Ana when she first heard about Taller San Jose. Mendoza was 21 years old and looking for something more for her life – a career, a goal and maybe even a little bit of hope.

Taller San Jose in Santa Ana serves 350 Orange County youth and young adults in Orange County each year. The organization, founded by Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in 1995, welcomes individuals from the often forgotten edges of society who are stuck in low-income circumstances, unemployed or underemployed and lack basic job training.

The founding of Taller San Jose (the name means Saint Joseph’s Workshop) grew out of one woman’s hope to see change in the gang-ridden neighborhoods of Santa Ana. Sister Eileen McNerney and three other Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange lived in Santa Ana and were awestruck and heartbroken over the relentless violence they witnessed on the streets around them.

Sister Eileen quickly identified poverty as the greatest obstacle for at-risk youth in Orange County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.4 percent of the Orange County population lives below the poverty line.

To create new opportunities and provide employment pathways to those with limited options, Sister Eileen opened an educational and job-training center in downtown Santa Ana for 18- to 28-year-olds. Last year, the organization helped place 198 people in jobs that pay an average wage of $12.20 an hour. Since its founding, Taller San Jose has raised more than $25 million in support.

The Diocese of Orange has long worked with Taller San Jose to support its mission. “Many parishes that are local to Taller San Jose’s training centers have served as places to conduct outreach, engaging young people in its programs,” says Taller San Jose CEO Shawna Smith. “Other parishes support through contributions of dollars through Knights of Columbus or parish offerings as well as serving as a source of volunteers. This fall, Taller San Jose is planning to collaborate on a construction project at Santa Clara de Asis parish in Yorba Linda.”

Each of Taller San Jose’s training academies offer hands-on education, individualized case management, and job placement. The academies offer courses in health care and business administration and construction. The paid training programs run for 16 to 20 weeks.

The organization set up Hope Builders, Inc. in 2010 for graduates of Taller San Jose’s Construction and Green Technology Academy. Its real construction teams with mentors and graduates have completed building projects throughout Southern California. Home Builders has provided 15 graduates with full-time positions, offered hands-on construction experience to 37 graduates and earned more than $2 million for Taller San Jose.

In September, Taller San Jose is launching its medical careers and construction training programs in Anaheim. In addition to practical job training, Taller San Jose’s Employment Services helps each student create a presentable resume, learn interview skills, dress professionally and complete a job search.

For those interested in volunteering at Taller San Jose, Smith says there is a current need for mock interviewers and math tutors.

“Taller San Jose makes a difference in the lives of young people not just for today but ongoing by empowering them with the tools they need to build lives of self-sufficiency,” says Smith. “It not only stewards the precious resources so generously provided by individuals, but it stewards the hope of the young people who comes to its doors searching for more than the darkness they see before them.”

After learning from a relative about the programs Taller San Jose has to offer, Mendoza enrolled in the Office Career Academy. During three months of training, she learned the basics of working in a professional office, including how to navigate through Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Despite English being her second language, Mendoza says that she greatly improved her typing and communication skills.

Mendoza’s new skills were put to the test when she landed an internship at St. Joseph Health in Irvine. She says she loves the work, which includes talking to patients over phone and handling authorizations and verifications with health insurance companies.

Mendoza adds, “Taller San Jose is a very valuable organization because it helps young people who have different struggles in life—those who are dropouts, young mothers, or have bad past. I am one of those young girls who benefitted from this program and it is important for us to have an organization that believes in you and does not give up on you. We learn new skills that help us make a better life for ourselves and our family.”