Article California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence By Justine Jimenez

West Sacramento hits a home run for employers and high schoolers

The city of West Sacramento won the 2023 Cal Cities Partners Award for Excellence in City-Business Relations. For more about the award program, visit

Six years ago, the West Sacramento city council looked back at the tremendous changes the city had made since its 1987 incorporation and identified two notable challenges. Teenagers needed productive activities and local employers needed skilled workers for entry-level jobs.  

Soon the West Sacramento Home Run Program was born. “The city council realized both these issues could be addressed by giving teens opportunities for paid internships with local employers and helping them learn the skills needed for an array of different careers in high demand in our region,” Mayor Martha Guerrero said.

The internship program is one of six programs in the city’s cradle-to-career initiative. So far, it has connected 218 high school students with local employers. These paid positions equip students with industry-specific and transferable skills to help them succeed in college and their careers.

The program’s participants reflect the city’s diverse communities. It also has a nearly equal number of men and women participants, as well as nonbinary interns — despite many internships taking place in male-dominated fields like computer programming and biomedicine.

Dylan “DJ” Castro worked at Sierra Donor Services in 2023. “In the procedure I got to watch, they take part of the cornea from the donor to give to the recipient,” Castro said. “I’ve never done anything like that before, so it was pretty cool.”

Her supervisor, Ronni Dunn, said it was great to have someone like DJ work with them because her interests and training prepared her for the job. “[DJ] just fit in perfectly and [was] always willing to do whatever we asked,” Dunn noted.

Dividends for students, schools, and employers

Developing the program was not without its challenges. But Denice Domke, CEO of the West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce says that two things were clear from the start: Local businesses needed more workers, and they wanted them to be from West Sacramento.

“[The city asked us] to help figure out a way to prepare youth for college and careers, and we immediately said yes,” Domke said.

The chamber worked with the city, the West Sacramento Foundation, and teachers to develop a pilot program. “We struggled with the design initially, because we knew the internships had to be more than just following around a mentor,” Domke said. “These young people had to be given meaningful and important work in order to gain not just career-specific, but also subtle soft skills that would truly prepare them for a job in their field of interest.”

The chamber is essential to finding employers who are willing to provide mentorship that goes beyond day-to-day tasks and can connect with the enthusiasm and interest of each intern. Program partners believe in the importance of giving youth opportunities and deeply appreciate the contributions they make. Giving mentorship that goes beyond just demonstrating and allows for hands-on training is crucial for everyone.

“Our interns helped us so much by alleviating many things that are usually set on my shoulders,” said Kelli Vang from Bridges of the Mind. “They were patient and understanding and brought the youth perspective back into me! They made me remember my passion for psychology by bringing theirs to work each day.”

The program aligns closely with the school district’s Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways. School officials have even tweaked the pathways in response to new internship positions identified by the Home Run Program. In 2023, the program placed interns for the first time at Kramer Fish Sciences, where Gwendolyn Riley performed basic laboratory tasks and experiments. Her supervisor said Riley exceeded her expectations.

The program also can help students who want to begin their careers right after high school or pursue a four-year college degree. Sophie Graves interned at Solectric, a local solar installation company, in 2022. The company hired her for a part-time position during her senior year, where she worked until she left for college.

Home Run’s impact on Graves did not end there. She credits the program with helping her earn a $2,000 scholarship that helped her attend Stanford University. Graves says she would recommend this program to anyone because of how caring the people involved are. 

“[The city of West Sacramento] put in a lot of care and effort to craft experiences that helped me grow and gave me opportunities,” Graves said. “The people in the Home Run [program] care about us and our growth.”

Expanding the benefit of internships  

Home Run interns attend local public high schools, where at least 80% of the students are low-income. These students often need to work part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer to contribute to their families’ income. Yet, internships are historically unpaid. By providing paid internships, all students can reap the benefits of the mentorship and growth that an internship offers.

The city covers all costs for employers — including wages — transportation to and from work through the city’s rideshare program, and employer insurance costs. The Community College Foundation manages payroll and other human resource needs and serves as the employer of record. The costs are paid through a local sales tax approved by voters in 2016, with an average annual cost of $180,000-$300,000.

Interns can also earn up to $1,000 through the city’s Ready, Set, Save! Scholarship program. Students receive a set amount of money for completing various academic, civic, and career readiness activities, including the Home Run and CTE programs.

“I feel like it’s the best thing that I’ve done,” said Bianca Romero, who interned at a childcare center. “It just makes me like I can communicate better, and I feel more mature.”

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city employed 17 interns in high-need positions and offered an online project option for 11 more. With more local businesses joining each year, the program’s future looks bright — as does the future of the city’s skilled, talented, and energetic group of young people ready to join the local workforce.

Justine Jimenez is the business manager for the city’s West Sacramento Home Run program. She can be reached at or (916) 617-4500. Watch this video for an overview of the project.