Kaiser Permanente Summer Youth Employment Program Celebrates 50 Years

Inspiring careers in health care since 1968.

Feature Story
Kaiser Permanente Summer Youth Employment Program alumni and anniversary celebration speakers onstage.
Speakers and SYEP alumni at the 50th anniversary celebration in Pasadena.

Fifty years ago, Kaiser Permanente Southern California committed to providing employment for underserved or at-risk high school students. That commitment went beyond just giving them summer jobs. The organization wanted the students to gain a valuable, lifelong experience that would prepare them for successful careers, encourage learning and responsibility and foster a stronger commitment to their communities.

Since the Summer Youth Employment Program began in 1968, more than 12,000 students in Southern California have had the opportunity to experience the health care field and learn firsthand from medical professionals. Many former program participants have come to work at Kaiser Permanente as nurses, department administrators, lab technicians, opticians and engineers. Many others have gone on to carry out these roles throughout Southern California and beyond.

More than 60 SYEP graduates and guests recently attended a special 50th anniversary celebration in Pasadena hosted by the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Regional Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Department. During the event, forme interns reconnected with friends and mentors reminisced about their internship days and expressed appreciation for the opportunity they had to gain essential job skills at a young age.

The following speakers congratulated the SYEP alumni on their achievements and emphasized how the Kaiser Permanente Southern California community health program continues to play a vital role in improving health equity and shaping young people’s futures:

  • Wendy Sander, Executive Director, Human Resources Consulting
  • Edward Ellison, MD, Executive Medical Director, Southern California Permanente Medical Group
  • Bill Caswell, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals
  • Angela Coron, Managing Director, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente Southern California
  • Bill Coggins, Founding Director, Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center

In addition, current Kaiser Permanente Southern California employees Patricia Phelps-Goynes, who graduated from SYEP 50 years ago, and Jonathan Alvarado, who completed the program in 2010, shared inspiring stories of their own with the audience.

Please see the following Q&A profiles that highlight current Kaiser Permanente Southern California employees who participated in this enriching program. 

Donna Atkins

Donna Atkins

Donna Atkins
Supervisor of Support Services, Volunteer Services, Special Events and Employee Activities, Riverside; SYEP intern 1976-77.

What departments and Kaiser Permanente facilities did you work in as an intern?
I began in the Department of Education at the Fontana Medical Center.  

How have you benefited from the program?
I have been afforded many opportunities throughout my 33-year career. Throughout my years in education, I served as the onsite coordinator for SYEP. I was part of the team that brought the Fontana Unified School District-A.B. Miller Health Services Academy Program to the Fontana Medical Center in 2005.  

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most?  
Dr. Lulamae Clemons, director of education. She spent time reviewing the many opportunities available at Kaiser Permanente, as well as discussing the importance of education and professional presentation. She always talked to me about giving back no matter what I did in life.

William Fretze

William Fretze

William Fretze
Workplace Safety Coordinator; SYEP intern 1986.

What departments and facilities did you work in?
Supply Chain (Materials Management) at Woodland Hills Medical Center. 

How have you benefited from the program?  
The program started me on a path toward health care. I learned on the job the use of computer software, received analytical training and was trained to be an improvement advisor. I also learned other valuable skills such as public speaking. 

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why? 
When I began college, I initially focused on investing/real estate. However, I realized that as the U.S. population ages, health care would become a major industry and an opportunity to work in an organization that is developing better systems to treat illnesses and programs to improve everyone’s health care and health. 

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most?  
The person from Human Resources who oversaw the program – Maryanne Malzone. She introduced the participants to Kaiser Permanente and the opportunities available. She also taught important skills, such as avoiding credit card debt and working hard to achieve one’s goals.

Maria Lesseos in the summer of 1982, during her time at Kaiser Permanente.

Maria Lesseos
Senior Consultant/Facility Manager; SYEP intern 1982.

What departments and facilities did you work in?
Regional RN Recruitment when the regional office was at 4747 Sunset Blvd.

How have you benefited from the program?
Besides the great benefits, compensation and opportunities, I met my future husband (through his sister) and made lifetime friends.

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most?  
My first boss, Betty Yarick. She was very generous with her time, kind and fun! We’re still good friends to this day.

Patricia Phelps

Patricia Phelps-Goynes, in 1982, smiles during a busy day at work.

Patricia Phelps-Goynes
Customer Service Representative – Patient Financial Services Customer Call Center; SYEP intern starting in 1968.

What departments and facilities did you work?
I began in Cash Control and Accounts Receivable, located on North Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.  

How have you benefited from the program?
Kaiser Permanente has given me stability, responsibility, courage, knowledge and independence.  

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why?
Watching Kaiser Permanente evolve over the years into the organization it is today has been very rewarding. You can decide a career path of your choice. 

Joanne Yamahata
Supervisor, Administrative Services, Center for Healthy Living; started as a SYEP intern in 1975.

What departments and facilities did you work in?
The Nursing Administration and Nurse Staffing Office at the Los Angeles Medical Center. 

How have you benefited from the program?
While working for Kaiser Permanente allowed me to use what I learned in high school, it also gave me much more experience working as a team. Kaiser Permanente has always emphasized the importance of being diverse. I’m proud to say that it has grown leaps and bounds toward becoming a very multigenerational, multicultural and diverse organization. 

When did you decide that you wanted to work in health care and why?
I felt I could make a difference with the care of a patient. I thought care was only provided in the hospital. Working at Kaiser Permanente, I found there is an “outpatient” side of care, as well as providing patient education.  

Who from Kaiser Permanente influenced you the most? 
Marjorie Holmes, the director of nursing, was a big influence. She was a remarkable woman. I could see she was well respected and still warm and kind to everyone while remaining focused on providing quality health care to our patients.