Laura Hernandez didn't find out that she was undocumented until she went to apply for college financial aid. Suddenly she was faced with teaching herself how to apply for a deferral under the Dream Act, which offers conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants.
The 22-year-old uses that background as she helps the young adults who come to the Oak View Workforce Center in Huntington Beach to plan for a career.
As an employment specialist at the Oak View Renewal Partnership, which oversees the workforce center, Hernandez said she understands what the people in her own neighborhood are going through.
"It's basically transforming lives," she said. "You see them come in here, sometimes even depressed. I've had people come in with tears in their eyes, so sometimes I provide a shoulder to cry on, but I let them know that they can get through this. If I was able to do it, they're able to do it, too."
The Oak View Workforce Center was launched in 2013 to help community members, mainly young adults in their 20s, by encouraging their work ethic, skills and will to be a functioning member of society.
"They need to talk about their goals, their career goals and their dreams," said Patrice Mariscal, director of workforce development at the center. "Sometimes they don't have an idea about it, so we take the time to listen and help to realize what exactly they're looking for."
In addition to helping them plan their goals, the workforce center helps with resumes, dress attire and setting up a professional voicemail message, Hernandez said.
The program also assists those who want to pursue higher education, helping them write cover letters and apply for financial aid.
In some cases in which the young adult is an undocumented immigrant, the workforce center will assist them as they apply for the nation's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows them to work in the United States.
The Oak View Renewal Partnership differentiates itself from similar programs around the county, operators say, by surveying the residents within the square-mile neighborhood off Warner Avenue about their needs.
"We're just trying to tailor and specialize it for this particular community," said Executive Director Iosefa Alofaituli. "I think that's one of the challenges of these broader-scoped services. They serve the whole, so you lose touch with the residents and the neighborhood."