Nonprofit teaches economic development skills to low-income youth
By Jenelle Lum
Valeria Ulloa was contemplating her next steps when she first heard of Juma during her senior year of continuation school. Her social worker at the time suggested she apply to Juma’s YouthConnect program that provides teens and young adults with employment opportunities and job-skills development. That was back in 2021.
Now, Ulloa serves as Juma Sacramento’s first youth manager.
“I’ve had a lot of growth,” Ulloa said. “The growth I’ve had with speaking and being able to approach people has changed for the better.”
Juma, which means “work” in several African dialects, employs youth ages 16-24 with a variety of hospitality jobs and teaches them career-building skills and financial management with an emphasis on serving youth that have experienced homelessness, the foster care system or have a history with juvenile justice. Founded in 1993 in San Francisco, the nonprofit social enterprise has since expanded to San Jose, Sacramento and Seattle.
In Sacramento, Juma partners with local venues and sporting arenas including the Golden 1 Center, Sutter Health Park, Heart Health Park and the Toyota Amphitheatre to employ participants of the program and provide hands-on experience. The local group currently employs 102 youth.
For Ulloa, that means taking on the responsibility of managing Juma team members at concession stands in partnering stadiums, and ensuring that the teams are able to get their tasks completed in a timely manner. Ulloa said she also assists guests with concession-stand sales and customer service tasks at events and sports games in Sacramento.
Talia Shani Kaufman, Juma Sacramento’s board chair, said she first saw youth employed by Juma at the Giants Stadium in San Francisco around 2010 and “was moved by so many young people working the stadium wearing uniforms.”
“They’re really honing their skills to ultimately make them more employable,” Kaufman said. “The goal of youth who complete the Juma program is that through employer partnerships, they are hired for permanent positions.”
Kaufman said that during her work at Sacramento’s City Hall in 2012 as the director of WayUp Sacramento, a community-building program serving Oak Park, her team wanted to create a partnership between the yet-to-be built Golden 1 Center and Juma. She said they helped to connect Juma with the Sacramento Kings in 2015.
Jim Keddy, a member of Juma’s advisory board and the executive director of Youth Forward, said that he wanted to make sure that youth in the community would benefit from a subsidy to build the Golden 1 Center.
“I like just this idea of young people running a social enterprise,” Keddy said. He said that he contacted Juma’s then-CEO, Marc Spencer, to open a local branch, eventually resulting in the Sacramento location.
Kaufman said Juma has two cohorts every fiscal year with one starting in fall and the other in spring. She added that the nonprofit hosts their annual “Bright Futures” event in September to further promote their mission and fundraise for the year. This year, the organization raised close to $25,000.
Stephen Norris, Juma’s California government contracts director, has been involved with Juma since 2013 in Seattle. Norris, who moved to Sacramento in 2017, said their recruitment process consists of reaching out to other community-based organizations and high schools in Sacramento including American Legion High School, Wind Youth Services and others who work with youth living in neighborhoods with high-poverty rates.
“The young adults that we work with are so full of potential and talent. It’s really great to give them the opportunity to find themselves, build their skills, confidence and connect to a really successful path for them,” Norris said.
Norris said Juma focuses on financial literacy, career searching, college preparation and skill building. Several participants of the program have faced housing insecurity, have experienced trauma or encountered the juvenile justice system at some point in their lives.
According to Juma’s website, 21% of their participants have faced homelessness, and since their start 30 years ago, Juma has been serving nearly 1,000 low-income youths each year through their more than 20 social enterprise operations.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to connect young people to their next school or employment placement and onto a successful career pathway,” Norris said. “And that’s how we’re trying to break the cycle of poverty.”
As of this year, Norris said Juma has brought on 34 new participants, which is the amount they had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The return of in-person programming and live entertainment means Juma employees get to serve sports fans and concertgoers again. Ulloa said she enjoys meeting some of her favorite performers and working backstage at the arenas.
“We get this opportunity to cater to the artists that go to the Golden 1 Center,” Ulloa said. “It’s super fun and cool. We make coffee for the artist and their dancers/crew.”
In the future, Ulloa said she wants to continue to help Sacramento’s youth and community. She said the members of Juma have become her support system since she first joined the nonprofit.
“Juma is the first step to finding yourself,” Ulloa said. “There’s a lot of resources and great opportunities within it.”
This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.