Community members and city officials gathered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Glendale Youth Alliance, a nonprofit which provides jobs and employment training for low-income youth, on July 20 at Doctor’s House Museum and Gazebo in Brand Park.
Karine Grigoryan, the organization’s executive director, began with GYA as a youth worker at the age of 14. Over the past 21 years, she has worked up the ladder taking on a variety of roles before assuming her current position. Grigoryan spoke to the News-Press about the importance of GYA’s work as well as the communities it serves.
“Over the past 30 years, we’ve served 12,000 youth within the Verdugo region. That’s our priority area: Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada,” Grigoryan said. “A lot of those that we’re serving are the homeless youth, the foster youth, youth on probation, youth with disabilities and currently pregnant or parenting youth — essentially the youth that are really disadvantaged and need that additional assistance to find their path to success.”
GYA offers six youth employment programs — four grant-based and two enterprise programs — as well as rental assistance programs, homelessness services and case management.
“When [youth] are enrolled in our program, it’s not just the employment, it’s case management; it’s supportive services; it’s mentoring. There’s training involved; there are a lot of components to it,” Grigoryan said.
About four years ago, after noticing more and more teens experiencing homelessness coming to GYA for help, the organization applied to special grant funds that allow GYA to provide 60-day hotel vouchers as a means of emergency shelter, Grigoryan said. She emphasized the importance of having a home when trying to find a job.
Former board members Jeannett and Art Resendez spoke highly of the organization’s dedication to employment training, highlighting its resume-writing and mock interview services and how GYA provides youth with professional attire for job interviews.
“They take kids that don’t have resources and they open up the world,” Art Resendez told the News-Press. “Someone’s background can limit their opportunities, but GYA expels that.”
GYA receives hundreds, if not more than a thousand applicants annually, Grigoryan said. Youth are selected based on need and if they qualify for certain grant programs.
“The grants are very limited to certain demographics, whereas our enterprise programs essentially can hire anyone that needs employment opportunities. That’s the beauty of it,” Grigoryan said, adding that GYA’s enterprise programs have grown over the years and bring in about $2 million annually.
Grants allow GYA to pay youths for 200 hours of work. Then, if businesses think participants are a good fit, they are transferred onto the businesses’ payrolls and become permanent employees of the company. One of the organization’s grant programs, Student Training and Employment Program, provides work experience to in-school youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 21.
Grigoryan said that while this program was not originally intended to lead to full-time jobs, many of the participants received return offers from companies. She spoke about the importance of confidence-building for youth with disabilities.
“The feedback that we got from the parents is that the youth’s confidence changed,” she said. “They changed as a person because they [learned] that they can work on their own and earn funds. … They started believing in themselves, which made a huge impact in their lives and in their thought process as far as what they’re able to do.”
Lucine Baghdasaryan, who has worked for GYA as a case worker for almost seven years, spoke about the deeply personal nature of the work the nonprofit does.
“The kids I work with become like family,” she said. “We are so involved in their daily lives from their school schedule to their work schedule. … I feel proud when I see my youth in the workforce.”
Among the attendees of the celebration, which included live music and a wine tasting, were Mayor Dan Brotman, Councilmembers Elen Asatryan and Paula Devine, City Manager Roubik Golanian and state Sen. Anthony Portantino.
Asatryan, a former GYA board member, commended Grigoryan’s leadership skills over an organization that is “near and dear” to her heart.
“Investment in youth is one of the most important investments we can make,” Asatryan told the News-Press. “Providing a path for our future generation is critical.”
Armen Vartanian, founder of Oceanview Capital Partners Inc., which partners with GYA for youth employment, shared his gratitude for the work GYA does.
“GYA takes passionate kids who just need an opportunity and helps bridge that employment gap for them,” he told the News-Press. “I’m a big believer in teaching people how to fish, rather than giving handouts. GYA works incredibly hard to actually prepare kids for the workforce and teach them responsibility.”
One thing Grigoryan and Baghdasaryan both believe makes GYA a special organization is the longtime commitment from its employees.
“Every single person cares,” Baghdasaryan said. “We take this work so seriously. We put in more than 100% of our effort.”
“We see a lot of companies that have high turnover, especially now after COVID, whereas so many of our staff have been with us 15-20 years,” Grigoryan said. “And they’re really passionate about serving the youth of our community and I think that’s what makes us unique.”
First published in the July 29 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.