Primarily designed to serve the Burbank, Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge communities, the Verdugo Jobs Center is a place people can go for individualized career assistance and services at no cost.
VJC has a number of programs for a variety of employment needs and is largely funded through federal funding as well as competitive grants at both state and local levels. The center first prioritizes individuals who are low income or unhoused, English language learners or basic skills deficient.
Next, the organization turns its attention to those with disabilities, veterans and veteran spouses, and people on probation, says Judith Velasco, executive director of the Verdugo Workforce Development Board, which oversees VJC.
“We work to ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for individuals [who] have the biggest barriers to employment and make sure that they have access to career pathways — that they have access to meaningful positions where they can grow and expand their skill sets,” Velasco told the Leader.
Melissa Younesian, the operations manager at VJC, explained that once someone is approved to be a client at VJC, they are assigned a case manager who will then assess exactly what that person is looking for and will create a path forward to achieve the client’s goals. This could be as simple as revamping a resume and reaching out to employers or this could mean getting someone set up with specialized skills training for their prospective field, which comes at no cost to clients.
Marlene Fernandez came to VJC at a time when she felt she was out of options. From October 2021 — when she was laid off from her job at Burbank Unified School District — to March 2023, she tried nearly a dozen different employment agencies before going to VJC “as a last resort.”
After working with agencies who she said rarely answered her calls and told her they had nothing to offer her, she was surprised by how differently she was treated at VJC, specifically highlighting the dedication her case manager showed her.
“She played a pivotal role in my life,” Fernandez told the Leader. “It was like having a mentor, a friend, someone who encourages you, someone who is on your team.”
Fernandez also emphasized the speed and proactive nature of VJC and said her case manager stayed in constant communication with her, whether it was giving feedback on her resume or alerting her of new positions open.
By May 2023 — just two months after connecting with VJC — Fernandez accepted a job offer from the city of Glendale as a city worker.
“To me, that was absolutely incredible,” she said. “I wish I would have gone there to begin with. It was a lot of wasted time with these other employment agencies and I would have been working a lot sooner if I would have gone to VJC first.”
Despite each case manager typically having around 100 active clients, Fernandez said her old case manager still sends her new openings she thinks may be a good fit for her.
While the main office of VJC is based in Glendale, there’s a Burbank satellite office located at the Burbank Public Library called Burbank Connection, where Burbank residents can find the same no-cost services closer to home.
In addition to working to match clients with jobs or providing special training, VJC offers youth and business services.
Through special grants and partnerships with organizations such as the Glendale Youth Alliance, the center is able to introduce interested youth into the workforce as well as provide skills training, interview preparation and mentoring.
VJC prioritizes working with youth who are low income, have disabilities or are in foster care, however, they encourage anyone interested in working to reach out to see if they can be placed in any programs.
“It’s good for the kids to start working and earning money and we teach them a lot about saving that money for different expenses they might have,” Velasco said, adding that the majority of youth they serve are low income. “They feel very honored to start earning money and helping out with their households.”
VJC’s business services include hosting on-site recruitment events for companies looking to make new hires and assisting businesses facing transition, closures, moves and downsizing with managing their employees. In the event layoffs do occur, VJC also helps the impacted employees.
The economic climate can greatly impact the flow of clientele for VJC. During the financial crisis of 2009, they were seeing 40,000 people annually, compared to nearly 10,000 this year, however, Velasco says the need is always high for the populations they cater most to.
“Our staff does an exceptional job of honoring people where they are at. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help,” Velasco said.
She emphasized the compassionate work staff does at VJC, going above and beyond their job descriptions. For clients who are unhoused, she said staff has directed them to shelters, provided them with food and even purchased Christmas gifts for them.
Younesian and Fernandez both echoed this compassion and the impact it can have on clients.
“Sometimes you may forget that there’s actually a person on the other side who’s going through something … and you realize you’re actually providing hope to clients, you’re providing help and a way out of a situation,” Younesian said.
Rather than treating her like a box she had to check, Fernandez said her case manager was truly invested in her story, comparing the level of care to that of family.
“[My case manager] was trying to help me in a genuine, wholehearted way,” she said. “When you do your job with heart, it truly shows, and I feel she puts her heart and soul into helping whoever enrolls at VJC and whoever she counsels.”
For more information, go to verdugoworks.com.
First published in the January 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.