In a three-piece brown wool twill with faint blue pin stripes, Mario Pasten stood out easily at a Monday evening gathering as the best-dressed member of his alumni group.
He maintained the illusion by hiking the trousers of the hand-me-down suit low on the hip so the cuff would reach the instep. He intends to have them altered, but even “as is” they served well to illustrate how a little help can change a person’s course in life.
Pasten was among more than a dozen alumni of Glendale’s federal job placement programs who assembled Monday for an upbeat ceremony in which business leaders paid tribute to the area’s diverse work force.
The event, in the sixth-floor auditorium of the North Brand Boulevard headquarters of CIGNA Healthplans of California, was part of the National Assn. of Counties’ celebration of JTPA Alumni Week.
That refers to the federal Job Training and Placement Act, the Reagan-era successor of the maligned CETA program of the 1970s. In conservative Glendale, JTPA--created by legislation co-authored by U. S. Sens. Edward Kennedy and Dan Quayle--is a much more popular program. Just how much so was evident as the Verdugo Private Industry Council (PIC), which oversees the job placement programs in Glendale, Burbank and La Canada Flintridge, honored its graduates.
The event started as a typically contrived affair, with finger foods, introduction of politicians, reading of proclamations and testimonials by businessmen offering the well-worn theme that, whatever the task, Glendale does it better.
“One of the things we see here in Glendale that we are proud of is the cooperation between the private sector, the government sector and the school district,” said businessman Bill Jacot, the crisp, sandy-haired master of ceremonies.
But then Jacot abruptly changed tempo, asking the JTPA alumni in the crowded room to step forward.
Close to 20 rose from their seats, most of them showing the same clean look of business aplomb as those the civic leaders who remained seated.
They squeezed into the tiny space in the front of the room and stood resolutely as Jacot told their life stories.
He began with the striking man in the brown suit whose youthful appearance was accentuated by a long tail of black hair hanging over his shoulder.
“We’d like to call out Mario Pasten,” he said. “Mario was homeless and had limited English skills. . . . He was sent by the Verdugo PIC’s service provider, Alliance for Education. That same day, he went on an interview. The next day, he was hired at 1928 Jewelry as a delivery driver, making $7 an hour plus medical benefits. Mario overcame homelessness and is now planning more training on his own, in the evenings, so he can advance in his work.”
There was a shudder of disbelief and then applause when Jacot added: “Mario is raising his two teen-age sons, who are here today.”
Jacot next introduced Alex Drake, a dapperly dressed young black man.
“Alex was recovering from chemical dependency and living in a sober environment called the Victory House,” he said.
“Through the Alliance for Education, Alex obtained on-the-job-training in 1988 and learned how to build, install and repair cabinets. After working for someone else and learning the business, Alex became independent and now at the age of 26 has his own successful small business for cabinetmaking.”
In quick succession, Jacot related the stories of Gloria Martinez, who was “on and off welfare for years, intermittently trying to support two children as a waitress”; Magdalen Berberian, who “emigrated from Iran in September of 1988" speaking virtually no English, and sometimes-cook Grover Newsome, who was “tired of living on unemployment insurance and wanted a new career with a chance for advancement.”
Each received training through JTPA’s vocational programs at Glendale College and is now employed in a steady job with satisfactory pay and the chance for promotion, Jacot said.
Nine of those who stood before the audience, in fact, work for CIGNA, whose management Jacot praised for its “generosity and wisdom to invest in JTPA’s participants and our alumni.”
Wisely, Jacot did not dwell on the obvious--that Glendale’s new central business district has become the home of a multifaceted, multilingual work force with complex training needs.
Afterward, Pasten’s sons, Mario Jr. and Jesus, translated for their father, who had trouble understanding the dozens of solicitous questions thrown at him.
They said they’ll be going to Eagle Rock High School in the fall, in the community they hope to live in as soon as their father saves enough money to move up from the van that serves as their home.