Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


By Leon Thompson

May 30, 2014 (Lakeside) -- “Heartland Charter School helped me get a job,”  said Andy Casteruita.  “I learned good work habits and leadership skills.” Andy is one of 49 students at the Heartland Coalition’s one year old Youth Build Charter High School with classes and an office on Orange Avenue in City Heights.

Heartland Coalition has been serving East County San Diego since 1989. During the Cedar Fire in 2003, Heartland shifted into high gear with aid for the victims. Heartland provided the tools for rebuilding lives after the devastation.

Heartland’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Hanson had his home destroyed by the Cedar Fire on that horrible night – escaping with only what he and his family could grab on their way out the door as the firestorm raged out of control, a 300-feet-high wall of flame moving at 60 miles per hour.  Homes were gobbled up as Mark and his wife, Jacqui, drove one step ahead of the flames while calling their neighbors from cell phones to warn them--and save lives.

The Heartland Coalition provided shelter, cars, computers, training, office space and counseling. Homeowners were helped to pick up the pieces of their homes and rebuild their lives.  The Heartland Coalition provided legal assistance to help homeowners deal with insurance companies.

Since then Heartland has expanded its work to provide job training, scholarships and now a charter High School designed to help at-risk youths to get their high school diplomas--still committed to helping people improve their lives. (Photo, above right: John Jacjuess, David De Dios and Andy Casteruita installing dual-pane energy efficient retrofit window, one of many usable job skills taught at the Heartland YouthBuild Charter High School.)

“They checked my transcripts and filled the gaps,” said David De Dios.

David graduates in June with a diploma.  “Passing a GED test is not the same,” he told East County Magazine. The difference is that this high school has small classes and dedicated teachers that engage students by making connections to their personal and cultural backgrounds. “They helped me with life skills, preparing a resume and presenting myself at a job interview,” David said.

Heartland YouthBuild takes into consideration family and community influences, and students' college and career goals.  In July, Heartland established its STEM program which will be included in the curriculum of the Heartland YouthBuild program. The mission of the program is to increase students’ aptitude in math and science as well as their interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career fields by engaging in interactive, team-based engineering projects. The program utilizes a hands-on design curriculum developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Photos: Shown above, (left) a race car manufactured at Heartland’s El Cajon plant to be used as a training tool in the vocational classes at the YouthBuild Charter High School; (middle) a working model of a hybrid electric car engine that will be used at the school to train students to build electric engines;  (Right) solar Thermal installation.

In addition Heartland Coalition buys and retrofits foreclosed homes (that bring down property values and pose a threat to safety) in inner city neighborhoods. CEO Mark Hanson said, “In keeping with our mission, Heartland continues to acquire, renovate with energy improvements and sell houses to first time buyers and low income families.”

Many of the job skills learned in YouthBuild are in preparation for the industries of the future.  Hanson adds, “We are writing grants to fund job training in weatherization techniques and solar thermal and solar electric installation. We want to prepare high-risk youth and veterans for a variety of career choices in new emerging vocations.”

Not everything at Heartland YouthBuild Charter High School is high-tech.  Heartland has completed construction on Triple H Ranch, which will serve Project Achieve students, foster youth, and returning veterans with horsemanship and wilderness experiences. The ranch is also available to assist disaster survivors with horse boarding and storage of personal items until the survivors can re-establish their businesses and residences.

John Jacjuess is set to graduate in June and had this to say, “I especially appreciated the personal attention from community volunteers who acted as Mentors.  The School helped me with financial aid and applying for College. Heartland gave me a second chance in life.”

For more information on this program, contact Alejandra Solorzano asolorzano@youthbuildcharter.org, (619)719 5102, Ext. 714.

Heartland Coalition is also the nonprofit 501c3 publisher of East County Magazine.

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at https://www.eastcountymedia.org/donate to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.