OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Omaha Step-Up program connects students ages 14-21 to paid internships and summer jobs.
Beyond a paycheck, the program offers skills training, professional development, career exploration and work experience.
Each year, the program hires hundreds of students and continued to do so during the pandemic. In 2020, nearly 500 interns were hired.
Step-Up Omaha was started in North Omaha 14 years ago. It’s expanded into South Omaha with the hiring of a new coach whose work focuses strictly in the area.
Life and career skills coach is Ana Torres was hired last June to focus on recruiting and working with more students in South Omaha — an area that is predominantly Latino. The goal of Torres and others who work in the area is to get more Latino students to join the program.
"I've been translating the informational fliers, giving them my information,” she said. “Parents can apply and the applications are in different languages, so it's not just Spanish. A lot of parents are surprised that Step-Up exists. They say they had no idea that it's been around for so many years."
Her role also includes attracting more South Omaha businesses to partner with Step-up and hire students in the summer.
"We want to be able to have businesses, even if it's a small business, so it's easy for the students to go to their work experience,” Torres said.
Torres said although students in North and South Omaha have similar obstacles when it comes to getting to college, working with the Hispanic students has its own unique challenges.
"They're worried because they're not documented. They're worried about, if they want to go to process, will this affect their process? Will this get them in trouble? We have a lot of families that don't speak English, so we want to explain to them how the program works,” she said. “There are a lot of things that people don't really think about...not having a license, not having an ID...it's just different struggles that we may take for granted and for them, it's a big deal."
Torres hopes her new role with this already successful program will help those, who just like her, had to overcome immigration barriers — so they too can move forward to their next chapter.
"There are opportunities. Just because they're not documented, doesn't mean it's the end of the world or that they can't move forward. I always tell the kids, you never know what's going to happen with the immigration situation with politics. I always encourage them to go to school if you can, you never know."
The application process for the Step-Up program is this Sunday, March 7th. For more information, visit https://stepupomaha.com.