Andrea Rivas Iraheta is a case manager with Opportunities for Youth (OFY), the only program in Marin designed to support the large number of unaccompanied young people who are arriving in the county after escaping poverty and violence in their home countries. As an immigrant herself, Andrea is able to develop trust with the young people and help them connect to education and employment, build community, and pursue their goals. She shares the story of her work.
How would you describe your work with the young people, unaccompanied minors who are new to the county?
The young people we work with must navigate complex systems, and though they are resilient, hopeful, and motivated, they also face many barriers to accessing government, school, and health systems without the type of close support we are able to provide.
Since most youth need immigration legal services, our legal team helps them with their process so that they are able to attain immigration relief and, in the future, access work permits. Youth can then access our Workforce Training program, which is designed to help clients secure career-path, quality jobs.
Many young people have also had traumatic experiences that can interfere with their ability to fully pursue their goals, so we connect them to our behavioral health team. These professionals provide trauma-informed support that respects their cultural backgrounds.
Do you help the youth connect with each other and build relationships?
Yes, building community and cultivating friendships is a high priority! We created a soccer team so the young people can make connections, have fun, and get exercise. We also host field trips, most recently to the Gravity Vault climbing gym in San Rafael.
The youth in our program have expressed how important connecting to each other has been in OFY, and therefore we make it a priority to provide spaces where they develop relationships and expand their community.
What do you think makes Opportunities for Youth unique and effective?
My fellow case managers and I can truly empathize with the youth we serve, as many of us have personal or family histories with immigration. Because we personally understand the context of their immigration experiences, we understand the importance of developing a foundation of trust and ensuring they have the support systems necessary to gain agency over their own lives. We want to help our clients integrate into their new community while also helping them preserve their relationships to their cultural practices.
Would you describe what it is like for a young person that you work with?
When Alberto enrolled, I worked to get to know him, his story, and his unique skills, strengths, and needs. Since he was under 18, I quickly helped him enroll in school so that he could access education and begin to learn English. I also helped him access health care.
Alberto had left Guatemala at age 17 after he began receiving threats of violence in his workplace. Fearing for his life, he and his family decided that he would make the long journey to the United States to seek safety. On the road, Alberto experienced many difficulties, including witnessing the tragic accident of a truck transporting fellow migrants.
Despite all the hardships Alberto has endured, he is one of the most energetic, kind, and motivated people I’ve met. His positive energy is contagious and his drive to support his family and have a better life is admirable.”
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
No matter what’s going on in their lives, the young people that I work with remain motivated, positive, and work actively toward their goals. They are eager to pursue whatever is next to build stability and well-being for themselves and their families. They also love to give back; two youth volunteered with our Advocacy & Policy team and several others with our weekly food pantry. I know that with the necessary support systems, our youth will continue to contribute to their communities in positive ways.
“I am incredibly proud to be part of the team. Together with my colleagues, I work to build trust with immigrant youth and help them pursue their goals and develop community in their new homes.