CareerWise celebrates youth apprentices at the first Apprenticeship Rising

HEA President and CEO Brian Wiebe (facing camera) shakes hands with Rolando Lopez, a CareerWise youth apprentice with Surf Broadband. Lopez was recognized for having completed his apprenticeship program, along with Mario Garcia (at right). (Photography by Kelly & Justin)

ELKHART (April 28, 2022) – The 21 local students who were the first CareerWise apprentices in the county had put in a lot of hard work. Now, it was time to celebrate.

For the first time since the program’s start in 2019, HEA and CareerWise Elkhart County held an Apprenticeship Rising celebration to recognize the trail-blazing students working in their chosen careers while they finish their high school education (and in many cases, pursue further education) and pay tribute to the business and educational partners who make this innovative program possible. 

About 60 people gathered at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Elkhart to share about their experiences as apprentices, educators, and employers in the program and learn more about how modern youth apprenticeship is growing in our community. Each apprentice also had an opportunity to have professional headshot photos taken by Photography by Kelly and Justin at no cost to them.

These modern youth apprentices are part of three different cohorts, which means they are at different points of the three-year apprenticeship journey in CareerWise Elkhart County. Members of the first cohort are finishing this year — including Rolando Lopez and Mario Garcia, who were recognized with certificates of completion — while the members of the third cohort are just starting on their professional education, splitting time between the classroom and their places of employment in their junior or senior year in high school. Youth apprentices achieve educational milestones under the guidance of their employer mentors as well as their teachers and counselors at school.

The evening was hosted by two apprentices: Allison Horner, who graduated last year from Northridge High School and her apprenticeship at HEA; and Bianca Jimenez-Ortiz, who is a senior at Concord High School and the first paralegal youth apprentice in the country, working at the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. Both young women spoke about the professional skills they’ve developed in a short amount of time on the job, and the important connections they’ve made in their chosen fields, which was a common thread for all of the apprentices in attendance.

It’s not just the apprentices who grow in their jobs, though. Gene Crusie, the CEO of Surf Broadband Solutions, said in his keynote speech that his experience working with apprentice Rolando Lopez has helped him grow in his appreciation of what the new generation of professionals can bring to the job: enthusiasm, a novel outlook, an eye toward innovation, and a personal connection. Crusie said that through a job-related travel trip, Rolando had ridden on an airplane and stayed away from family in a hotel for the first time, and that the very next morning, he’d be joining a group of Surf employees on his first turkey-hunting trip.

When it comes to the job, too, Crusie said, Rolando had already made a difference in the world:  he had a key role in connecting a neighborhood in Elkhart County to high-speed Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic so that children living in that neighborhood would be able to participate in remote schooling.

“Rolando brings that energy, that enthusiasm, as he’s always saying, ‘just do it!’” Crusie said. “We all feel that spirit from him.”


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