Renee Ramos: Rural and Native Young People Respond to COVID-19

Across the country, rural and Native young people are serving on the front lines of this pandemic as essential workers and leading in service roles for their communities. For many of these young people, they are managing challenging circumstances at home while simultaneously stepping up to serve their communities. In the coming weeks, we will be asking rural and Native young people for their perspectives, experiences, and responses to COVID-19. 

We start with a spotlight on Renee Ramos in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Renee was selected to represent her community at the Rural Youth Assembly Summit. She is a student with Santa Fe YouthWorks where she is pursuing her high school education and career pathway training in culinary arts. Rachel Moore, Santa Fe YouthWorks Workforce Director caught up with Renee to ask her about her thoughts on her work and service to her community during COVID-19.

Rachel Moore YouthWorks Workforce Director interviewed Renee Ramos, 17 years old, Assistant Manager at Santa Fe YouthWorks Culinary Arts and Catering on April 16, 2020.

How have things changed in your job since the COVID-19 Outbreak? 

Now in the YouthWorks kitchen there is a lot more work and there’s been a change of pace. In the YouthWorks kitchen we are preparing 5,000 meals per week for people in need in the Santa Fe community. We are cooking and giving out supper meals to families for curbside pickup at Santa Fe Public Schools and also meals to people at the Midtown campus for people experiencing homelessness who are waiting for their COVID test results. And we are making a larger variety of meals. Some of the new meal recipients we are serving are vegan and some people are only able to eat soft food and we want to make good quality food that all people can eat and enjoy.

We all have to wear masks and gloves for the full 8 hour shift. There are no exceptions and we are all working hard to keep each other safe. We are also constantly sanitizing all high contact surfaces. Working with these new conditions is a change but we have a lot of humor in our kitchen and even more communication. We are doing our best to keep everyone safe by also working a minimum of 6 feet apart.

What is the best part of your job right now?

I’m very grateful to be helping the community in the way that I am – at the end of the day I come home and I feel good that I am part of helping out everyone that we can in need.

Renee, what is your advice to other youth during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

My advice to other youth during the pandemic is that you need to keep a positive mindset and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. No matter what, just keep doing what you can to participate and cooperate and we will get through this. Taking on new hobbies and revisiting old hobbies has also helped me. I have been drawing and reading more now. I used to draw and read a lot when I was younger and I am rediscovering drawing to keep a good mindset. 

How are things different at home during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

I am helping my mom transition to homeschooling my little brother and trying to find good books for him. My mom and I are working together to lead my brother’s lessons and create activities for him, and take him outside to ride his bike. We try to have a routine. He does his math, then his english and then an activity, it is important to have structure. Me and my mom have seen how valuable our teachers are in this process. We see the patience teachers have in helping little ones to learn. 

How are your studies going?

I am in the 12th grade and I am completing high school at Penn Foster High School, which is an online high school diploma program. I have been in this program for 1 academic year so I have some time to adjust to the process of distance learning. I actually find that I have more time to focus on my studies and have gotten more work done than before. I am on track to graduate in December 2020.

That’s great! Because you have already done distance learning for one year do you have advice for other students who are just now required to transition to remote learning during COVID?

My advice to other students who are just now having to adjust to distance learning is: never lose your self motivation – commit to doing even a little bit every single day it will go a long way in the end. It took me a long time to develop patience which is one of the most important elements in succeeding at distance learning. 

You are set to graduate a semester early. Congratulations! How did you get on the education track you are currently on? 

Earlier in high school I was having some challenges. My probation officer made me go to Santa Fe YouthWorks to take classes for testing for the GED. After re-engaging with school at YouthWorks, I realized it would be possible to get my high school diploma. I was in Youth Shelters at the time and a staff member at Youth Shelters suggested I pursue my high school diploma through an accredited online program. I didn’t know there were so many paths to obtain your high school diploma. A friend told me about the program I am currently enrolled in and I really like it. At Penn Foster High School, they give so much attention to individual students – they offer specialized learning over the phone through calls, messages, pictures and they have learning videos that explain specific subjects to you thoroughly. They provide one on one support for improving test scores. 

You are working as an Assistant Manager at the YouthWorks Culinary Arts and Catering Program. How did you get your current job?

YouthWorks has really helped me out and they have been a really good stepping stone for me. I started working in the kitchen while I was taking GED classes at YouthWorks. I have been working in the kitchen for 13 months. I started in a kitchen staff role where I was mostly cleaning and doing basic food prep. I have since been promoted to my current role as Assistant Manager.  

Have you had mentors in your job at YouthWorks?

Jackie Gibbs, the Culinary Program Director, has been a strong mentor for me. She has taught me everything I know in the kitchen and she has really prepared me for my next job. Jackie has given me structure and a lot of independence. I’m 17 and an assistant manager which has given me skills in problem solving, communication, helped me to develop a strong work ethic, and improve my time management. Working with Jackie and the YouthWorks Culinary team making good high quality food that people enjoy is really rewarding.

Renee Ramos of Santa Fe YouthWorks
Renee Ramos prepares meals in the Santa Fe YouthWorks kitchen.

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