Like many of our nation’s restaurant industry workers, Citlali Salazar was feeling vulnerable and frustrated during the pandemic. He had dedicated years of his life to restaurants and suddenly his was closed, open, then closed again.
“In Los Angeles, people weren’t taking the virus seriously,” explains Citlali, who grew up in the Inland Empire and Mission Viejo. “I wanted to do something where I was helping people who cared more about my health.”
While searching for opportunities, JVS SoCal’s CareerWork$ Medical program caught his eye. It prepares participants for non-clinical positions in hospital and clinic environments as a first step on the career ladder in healthcare.
“I thought why not go to work in a hospital where the pandemic is taken seriously and I’d be able to help people going through it?” he recalls. “I gave it a shot and now I’ve been working at Cedars-Sinai for a little over a year.”
Citlali liked that his CareerWork$ Medical class was small and most participants were lower income like him. They shared fascinating stories about wanting to work in healthcare—from a grocery store manager who wanted to use her management skills in another way to a woman with a daughter with disabilities who was inspired to help others.
The program prepared Citlali for everything from how to dress for a job interview to how to administer CPR and first aid, stuff he didn’t learn while earning a B.A. in English at UCLA. His favorite part was learning medical terminology. “I love words and etymology (the study of word origins),” he says. “I just love knowledge, so I was really excited about this.”
One critical piece of knowledge was how to be more empathetic and treat people who are acting out. “Customer service is difficult in a restaurant where people are mad because their order is wrong,” he explains. “In a hospital, it’s because they’re worried about a loved one or going through a challenging time.”
It’s certainly come in handy at Cedars-Sinai, where Citlali works as a steward serving food to patients. “It’s a lot more satisfying because these people need kindness and empathy,” he says. “You can really tell when people need a simple smile or to hear ‘Enjoy your food.’”
Currently, he’s working on the Labor & Delivery floor. He loves his community of co-workers as well as the fact that he’s part of a union and has many growth opportunities.
At the same time, Citlali is pursuing what he studied in college. He’s inspired by authors like Alice Munro, who explores human complexities and the pain of human connection. “I’m brown, queer and trans, so I like to write about the voices that aren’t always heard in our society.”
Additionally, he spends time giving to the community’s most vulnerable because he can relate as an addict in recovery. “I know a lot of people who are housing insecure are addicts and don’t have the tools I had to overcome this disease,” he shares.
Citlali’s outreach work has included packing food, providing access to mobile showers and distributing hand sanitizer. “If I see someone begging and it’s payday, I’m going to say, ‘Yes,’” he says.
And when he does, Citlali is thankful for the JVS SoCal program that helped put him on a better path in life.
If you’d like to help others like Citlali to take part in life-changing career training programs, please consider donating here.