JOVEN Raises the Next Generation of Leaders

Diego Limón is a South Sider who’s the first in his family to attend college.

It would have been a tougher road for him at Texas A&M University-San Antonio (TAMUSA) if not for his involvement in high school with JOVEN, a nonprofit that works with youth primarily from communities that have not traditionally had easy access to higher education.

JOVEN’s workforce training program first taught Limón about the basic responsibilities of getting and keeping a job. Over four summers, he worked at Sunrise Nursing & Rehab Center and learned about dressing for success and how to answer phones in a professional setting.

Limón, 20, is now laser-focused on giving back to the community that raised him. When he graduates from TAMUSA, where he’s an education major with a focus on history, he wants to become a middle or high school teacher on the South Side.

“Yeah, I want to start off [teaching] locally here, give back to the community that helped me,” Limón said.

A former JOVEN participant returns to serve as a prevention specialist.

His summer internships at Sunrise built his confidence. Limón remembers being a shy kid at age 14 when he first heard about JOVEN back in 2015.

Limón said, “Being here [at JOVEN], it wasn’t just like, ‘Oh, I’ll just be the quiet little guy in the back.’ They really tried to have us come out of our shell.”

JOVEN stands for Juvenile Outreach and Vocational Education Network, and it was born out of the Benedictine Resource Center at the Oblate School of Theology in 1992 to combat the staggering rise in juvenile crime locally. Over the years, JOVEN has evolved into a more-rounded nonprofit that offers an array of education and support services for young people ages 14 to 17 throughout the city. The students are predominantly Hispanic and often attend Title 1 schools.

“We’re back in school trying to get back to the norm of things,” JOVEN Executive Director Amy Cardenas said. “A lot of the schools have noticed how mental health is such a need in the community. It’s greater than ever.”

JOVEN’s services include after-school counseling, summer camps, summer youth employment, and abstinence education. The internship program involves one week of orientation, during which students learn basic job etiquette like how to answer phones or turn in timesheets, but also skills associated with having a job, like how to manage a bank account.

“I got to learn about managing my money,” Limón said. “We had that 10 percent of savings [to] show us like, OK, we can’t really spend all of it because if we do, then we might get in trouble.”

Big Give annual fundraiser event

During a JOVEN internship, students will work 20 hours a week for six weeks in the summer. Limón remembers the activities director at Sunrise telling him that landing certain jobs is easier with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Cardenas sees this play out with JOVEN students all the time. Roughly, 60 community partners enroll close to 200 students in the jobs program.

For Límon, the internship was extra special. He not only got the experience of what it’s like to be in the workforce, but the work itself was rewarding, caring for those who are often forgotten. He knew he wanted a career where he could serve people directly.

“That allowed me to find my passion,” Limón said. “I actually want to work in a place where I can engage with people, rather than sit in an office or just like, you know, those types of jobs.”

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