A high school diploma and job skills: Get both through new Escondido program

A program that has provided job training and education to young adults for more than three decades in San Diego County is beefing up its North County presence with the opening of a new training center in Escondido.

Urban Corps of San Diego recently held a grand opening to announce its new Escondido training facility at 2200 Micro Place, though planned renovations at the center won’t be completed for several months.

Urban Corps offers people from ages 18 to 26 the opportunity to earn their high school diploma, while also working 32 paid hours per week to gain job skills.

Once corps members have graduated from the program, they are assisted with getting a job or preparing for college, said Kyle Kennedy, the group’s CEO. The group’s web site notes that 70 percent of corps members land jobs after graduation, and 22 percent go on to college.

Corps members typically spend one day per week in classes to earn their high school diplomas, and four days per week at job sites around the county.

The program is free to participants. Aspiring corps members can fill out an online application on the group’s web site or attend an informational session at either the group’s San Diego center — near the Old Town trolley station — or the new Escondido location.

Applicants must be 18 to 26, live in San Diego County and be willing to take a drug test.

“We will take anybody who wants to make their life better by getting their high school diploma and job skills,” Kennedy said.

Currently, there is no waiting list and it is possible to fill out an application or attend an information session at the beginning of one week and be working by the next week, Kennedy said.

“We have way more work than we have employees at this time,” Kennedy said.

The corps hires its crews out to work for private- and public-sector employers to handle such jobs as graffiti removal, trash pickup, clearing debris from storm drains, brush clearing, recycling and construction. During their time with the corps, members earn minimum wage, currently $14 per hour but going up to $15 in January, and they can earn raises by meeting certain performance goals, Kennedy said.

Among local cities that have hired Urban Corps is Carlsbad, which relies on the program’s workers to perform such jobs as cleaning trash and debris from major roadways, said Clayton Dobbs, environmental program supervisor in Carlsbad’s Department of Public Works.

Corps workers also remove graffiti, pressure wash streets and sidewalks downtown and elsewhere in the city, and clear vegetation and trash from storm drain outfalls, said Dobbs.

The corps has been working for Carlsbad for 15 years, Dobbs said. “They’re a huge asset for us.”

Dobbs, who’s been with the city for 33 years, said hiring Urban Corps was “the smartest move I’ve ever made.”

One current corps member, Reyna Machado, 22, of Lemon Grove, said the program has helped her grow both personally and professionally. Before joining Urban Corps, she said, she worked a series of jobs in food service and at a glass shop. The jobs offered no path for advancement, she said, especially because she didn’t have her high school diploma.

She is scheduled to graduate next month after nearly two years in Urban Corps, with her diploma proudly in hand.

Urban Corps has “been a very big factor in my life,” she said. “If I had never entered this program I wouldn’t be where I am right now, so I’m very grateful.”

In January, Machado plans to begin classes at Southwestern College as she works toward her career goal of becoming a law enforcement officer.

Urban Corps plans to replicate all services now offered in San Diego at the new Escondido center, which is named after the late Diane Chalmers, a long-time president of the Urban Corps’ charter school board.

A bequest from Chalmers, as well as a state grant, funded most of the $1.2 million purchase price for the Escondido property, said Kennedy. The corps is spending about $200,000 on renovations on the property, which was helped by a $100,000 community development block grant provided by the city of Escondido.

The 4,500-square-foot center will offer charter school classes, daily breakfast, lunch and snacks for corps members, as well as showers and laundry facilities, Kennedy said, as some corps members are homeless. Currently, the San Diego center has some 160 corps members, and the Escondido center has space for 75.

The intention, said Kennedy, is to offer corps members support in whatever they need, whether it’s a child-care referral, a cell phone, a new suit for an interview or a course in financial literacy.

“It’s not just a job, it’s all the help they need to get to the next level in their career,” he said.

For more information, visit