by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — It’s just another day at work for Jess Castaneda but she’s no ordinary employee. She’s just 17 and already learning the ropes at Kaiser Permanente’s Human Resources Office in San Francisco.

“I’ve learned … the way you portray yourself in front of other people is very important,” explained Castaneda. “And even like the smallest things you do… and little details like really matter.”

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Navigating difficult adult situations is not new to Castaneda. At just 13 years old, her family lost their home.

“We lived in [San Mateo County],” recalled Castaneda. “And you know the Bay Area is not a very cheap place to live in and we weren’t able to pay for the rent fully and on time, so that kind of led up to us moving into a homeless shelter.”

Castaneda, her mom and five siblings would be homeless for nearly a year. Getting to school was tough.

“It was a little scary,” she said. “Waking up and not knowing whether or not you are going to go to school was a very big thing for me at the time.”

But Castaneda decided early on to make education her priority. And through a work study program at ICA Cristo Rey Academy in San Francisco’s Mission District, the high school senior is adding HR pro to her resume.

“It was really important for me,” explained Castaneda. “It was kind of just my way to escape, I guess.”

Her managers are impressed.

“She is just like a breath of fresh air, “explained Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Human Resource Leader Kisha Grove “She comes with the utmost professionalism.”

And her teachers are inspired by Castaneda’s work ethic.

“Jess is very poised, very mature,” said Bill Olinger, Director of the Work Study Program at ICA Cristo Rey Academy. “You can just tell the way she carries herself, particularly around adults and that is what this job experience does.”

Castaneda’s family now has a home of their own, and she’s busy planning a career in healthcare after college. But she also a message for others who are struggling.

“Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone’s highlight reel,” advised Castaneda. “Your socio-economic background doesn’t necessarily affect your acceptance to college … honestly, the only thing that is really going to affect it is your will to go.”

Christin Ayers

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