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Kaiser Permanente Summer Youth Employment Program Celebrates 50 Years

Fifty years ago, Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC) committed to providing employment for underserved or at-risk high school students. That commitment went beyond just giving them summer jobs. The organization wanted the students to gain a valuable, lifelong experience that would prepare them for successful careers, encourage learning and responsibility, and foster a stronger commitment to their communities.   

Since the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) began in 1968, more than 12,000 students in Southern California have had the opportunity to experience the health care field and learn firsthand from medical professionals. Many former program participants have come to work at Kaiser Permanente as nurses, department administrators, lab technicians, opticians, and engineers. Many others have gone on to carry out these roles throughout Southern California and beyond. 

More than 60 SYEP graduates and guests recently attended a special 50th anniversary celebration in Pasadena hosted by the KPSC Regional Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Department. During the event, former interns reconnected with friends and mentors, reminisced about their internship days, and expressed appreciation for the opportunity they had to gain essential job skills at a young age.  

The following speakers congratulated the SYEP alumni on their achievements, and emphasized how the KPSC community health program continues to play a vital role in improving health equity and shaping young people’s futures: 

  • Wendy Sander, Executive Director, Human Resources Consulting
  • Edward Ellison, MD, Executive Medical Director, Southern California Permanente Medical Group
  • Bill Caswell, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals
  • Angela Coron, Managing Director, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente Southern California
  • Bill Coggins, Founding Director, Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center

In addition, current KPSC employees Patricia Phelps-Goynes, who graduated from SYEP 50 years ago, and Jonathan Alvarado, who completed the program in 2010, shared inspiring stories of their own with the audience. 

Please see the following Q&A profiles that highlight current Kaiser Permanente Southern California employees who participated in this enriching program.

Donna Atkins profile

Donna Atkins

Supervisor of Support Services, Volunteer Services, Special Events and Employee Activities, Riverside

When were you an SYEP intern?
1976-1977.

What departments and Kaiser Permanente facilities did you work in as an intern?
I started in the Department of Education at the Fontana Medical Center. 

What departments and facilities have you worked in for Kaiser Permanente after your internship?
Beginning in July 1985, I worked in the hospital staffing and payroll office at Fontana Medical Center and Riverside Medical Center, as well as the staffing office (resource network) in Anaheim. I also worked at the Fontana Medical Center in the education department as an administrative specialist III, where I was promoted to a staff specialist followed by an administrative services supervisor. 

Why did you join SYEP?
I joined the program in high school to see what positions were available in health care.

How have you benefitted from the program?
I benefited greatly from the program as I have been afforded many opportunities throughout my 33-year career. I feel I have come full circle, meaning I returned to Kaiser Permanente working in the same department that hired me as a SYEP intern. Throughout my years in education, I served as the onsite coordinator for SYEP. I was part of the team that brought the Fontana Unified School District-A.B. Miller Health Services Academy Program to the Fontana Medical Center in 2005. 

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why?
I came back to health care after my experience as a SYEP intern primarily to continue gaining experience in health care in a nonclinical area.

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most while you were an intern and why?  
The person who influenced me the most during that time was Dr. Lulamae Clemons, director of education. She spent time going over the many opportunities available at Kaiser Permanente, as well as discussing the importance of education and professional presentation. She was very thoughtful with all the staff she managed. She always talked to me about giving back no matter what I did in life. 

William Fritze profileWilliam Fretze

Workplace Safety Coordinator (Project Manager I)

When were you a Summer Youth Employment Program intern?
1986.

What departments and Kaiser Permanente facilities did you work in as an intern? 
Supply Chain (Materials Management) at Woodland Hills Medical Center.

What departments and facilities have you worked in for Kaiser Permanente after your internship? 
Woodland Hills Medical Center: Supply Chain, Utilization Management, and Quality Management  
Walnut Center:  Labor Management Partnership (LMP) – Workplace Safety

Why did you join SYEP?  
During summer vacation, I was looking for a job. I heard of a new medical center in Woodland Hills that had a program for high school students. It sounded exciting and more interesting than other summer jobs. 

How have you benefitted from the program?  
The Summer Youth Employment Program started me on a path toward health care. I learned on the job the use of computer software, received analytical training, and was trained to be an improvement advisor. I also learned other valuable skills such as public speaking and presenting to large groups.

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why? 
When I began college, I initially focused on investing/real estate. However, I realized that as the United States population ages, health care would become a majorindustry and an opportunity to work in an organization that is developing better systems to treat illnesses and programs to improve everyone’s health care and health.

Can you share a humorous event you experienced when you were an intern?  
One of my supply chain co-workers often played a cassette deck, which introduced me to classic hits. He would sometimes sing and dance to the songs, which made the job fun. 

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most while you were an intern and why?  
The person from Human Resources who oversaw the program – Maryanne Malzone. She introduced the participants to Kaiser Permanente and the opportunities available. She also taught important skills, such as avoiding credit card debt, and working hard to achieve one’s goals.

Maria Lesseos profile

Maria Lesseos

Senior Consultant/Facility Manager 

When were you a SYEP intern? 
1982.

What departments and Kaiser Permanente facilities did you work in as an intern?
I worked in Regional RN Recruitment when the regional office was at 4747 Sunset Boulevard. 

What departments and facilities have you worked in for Kaiser Permanente after your internship? 
I worked in Regional RN Recruitment; Regional Hospital Administration; National Facilities Services; and Medical Group Administration. 

Why did you join SYEP? 
My parents said I needed to get a job for the summer. 

How have you benefitted from the program?  
I’ve benefitted so much. Besides the great benefits, compensation and opportunities, I met my future husband (through his sister) and made lifetime friends.  

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why?  
When I was pregnant with my first son in the early 1990s. Great benefits!

Can you share a humorous event you experienced when you were an intern? 
I was asked to cover the phones and a gentleman name Jim Vohs called. I didn’t know who he was (then chief executive officer of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals). I asked who he was and could hear humor in his voice. I asked how to spell his name and what message did he want to leave! 

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most while you were an intern and why?  
Betty Yarick. She was my first boss – very generous with her time, kind, and fun! We’re still very good friends to this day. 

Patricia Phelps-Goynes profilePatricia Phelps-Goynes

Customer Service Representative - Patient Financial Services Customer Call Center

When were you a SYEP intern? 
I started my first SYEP internship in June 1968. 

What departments and Kaiser Permanente facilities did you work in as an intern?
The first departments I worked in were Cash Control and Accounts Receivable, located on North Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

What departments and facilities have you worked in for Kaiser Permanente after your internship?
I continued with Accounts Receivable on Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and later as a national cash register and keypunch operator at the Walnut Center in Pasadena. 

Why did you join SYEP?
A representative came to Jordan High School in Los Angeles to sign up students for the Summer Youth Employment Program. 

How have you benefitted from the program?
Kaiser Permanente has given me stability, responsibility, courage, knowledge and independence. 

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why?
Watching Kaiser Permanente evolve over the years into the organization it is today has been very rewarding. You can decide a career path of your choice.

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most while you were an intern and why?  
Lee Berkowitz, senior clerk, influenced me working in Cash Control. Lee trained me to operate the various equipment needed for me to do my job. Mary Cryer of SYEP also gave me confidence in the working environment.

Joanne Yamahata

Supervisor, Administrative Services, Center for Healthy Living (formerly Health Education)

When were you a SYEP intern?
I started in June 1975. 

What departments and Kaiser Permanente facilities did you work in as an intern?
I worked in the Nursing Administration and Nurse Staffing Office at the Los Angeles Medical Center.

What departments and facilities have you worked in for Kaiser Permanente after your internship?
I worked in Nursing Administration, Medical/Surgical Nursing Units, Education and Training, and Health Education. All positions were at the Los Angeles Medical Center.

Why did you join SYEP?
I graduated from high school and was looking for a job. A friend mentioned Kaiser Permanente was interviewing for summer students. My sister and I both interviewed for the program and we were accepted for that summer placement.

How have you benefitted from the program?
I took an office procedures class in high school. While working for Kaiser Permanente allowed me to use what I learned in high school, it also gave me much more experience working as a team. Kaiser Permanente has always emphasized the importance of being diverse. I’m proud to say that it has grown leaps and bounds toward becoming a very multigenerational, multicultural and diverse organization.

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why?
I have always wanted to work in the health care industry since high school. I felt I could make a difference with the care of a patient. I thought care was only provided in the hospital. Working at Kaiser Permanente, I found there is an “outpatient” side of care, as well as providing patient education. I eventually moved toward receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in health education – not knowing then that I would eventually become a supervisor in the department.

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most while you were an intern, and why? 
Marjorie Holmes was a big influence. Margie was the director of nursing. She was a remarkable woman. She was able to recognize, articulate, and substantiate her reasoning and position in any aspect of managing a multimillion dollar nursing department. I could see she was well respected and still warm and kind to everyone while remaining focused on providing quality health care to our patients.