GLENDALE, Calif. — “Someone once told me that the Glendale Youth Alliance is the best kept secret. But we want everyone to know about it!” exclaims Karine Grigoryan, the executive director of the organization that is better known simply by its initials, as GYA. Karine was only fourteen when she enrolled in the Summer Brush program – one of the few at that time operated by the GYA, a nonprofit organization operating through the City of Glendale.
Today, she marks twenty-seven years of both being at its roots and racing to the ultimate heights. She admits that the entire journey has shaped her as a leader: “I think it was definitely an advantage on my part, because I got to experience what the youth feel – the excitement of getting your first paycheck and the friendships you make, and then as a staff member operating the programs on a case manager level. So, I had a feel for as well as actual hands-on experience of all aspects of program operations.”
Karine is certain that this has made her more empathetic. “Once there’s an issue out in the field, I can relate to what the youth is going through and experiencing; or as a case manager, when there’s frustration on documentation, or during an audit or a challenge at a worksite, I’ve actually been there and done that and experienced it. So, I completely understand where they’re coming from,” says Grigoryan.
Glendale Youth Alliance was founded thirty years ago when the city manager at a conference came across a book called Reinventing Government, which was all about involving young people in government programs. Inspired by that book, he conducted a survey in the community focusing on gang related youth, asking, “what would keep them away from those groups and out of the streets?” The answer was very simple – a job.
Based on the results of the survey, a small program was established employing school students during the spring break to work in the field. Tasks were basic: painting fire hydrants and brush clearance. Students were excited. The program turned out to be a success and became a permanent Summer Brush Program, which operates up until now. Over the years, over a dozen programs were added to the list organized by the Glendale Youth Alliance employing youth between the ages 14 to 24. Young people from different backgrounds, income levels, housing, barriers and disabilities, youth determined to build their future, joined the organization every year and slowly formed the new workforce of the city.
Karine was one of the latter. She came back to the GYA as a program specialist while she was earning her bachelor’s in business administration at California State University, Northridge. Soon enough, she was promoted to a case manager and later, when she was only 24 years old, she was offered the role of the program supervisor. Since then, with her own growth to the position of executive director, GYA grew more and more, until it ending up serving more than 12,000 youth with various employment programs in retail, food industry, offices and even government.