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The Lost Angels Children’s Project

At 21 years old, Angel Gonzalez is living his dreams.

Angel is employed by Northrop-Grumman in Palmdale, California and studying mechanical engineering at Antelope Valley College. The company, which specializes in defense projects, is paying for Angel’s degree.

Angel’s career journey to Northrop Grumman began a couple of years ago, when he joined the Lost Angels Children Program.

Lost Angels, as it’s commonly referred, was started in 2014 by Aaron Valencia, as a way to keep teenagers off the streets while teaching them the art of classic car restoration. Today the program offers the Antelope Valley support through traditional outreach, vocational training, social enterprise initiatives in the form of an after-school program.

This program is accessible to historically underserved communities, thanks to a partnership with JVS SoCal and the Antelope Valley America’s Job Center of California (AJCC). “I started seeing all those students from the after-school program walking in and out of Aaron’s shop back in the day,” remembers Angel who used to work down the street from the Lost Angels Workshop. “I’ve always been into cars, and I was always curious about what they were doing.”

After learning that after the fourth week, the program pays the students to restore classic cars, he knew he had to be part of it. The partnership with LA County’s Department of Economic Opportunity through the AJCC facilitates access to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds to offer paid on-the-job training.

“JVS SoCal has been a huge, integral part to our programming” says Aaron, who also holds the position of Chief Executive Officer. “[They give us] the ability of being an actual job. When students receive a paycheck, they are more accountable – it’s part of the adulthood piece that we are able to be instilling in them that this isn’t just a class that you can miss a day, this is a job. And when it’s a job, I feel that we get so much buy-in from our young people,” he says.

When he was accepted into the program, Angel’s dedication saw no limits, he drove close to 50 miles each day to work at an Amazon warehouse to return to town in time to be a part of the program.

“It wasn’t easy, but I was really ambitious, and I really wanted it. The Lost Angels program had it for me. All I had to do was just show that I really wanted it,” said Angel. 

The program teaches participants the basics of drilling, working with fiberglass, surface prepping for vehicles, mixing chemicals and using the tools in a proper way. The soft skills, though, are the ones that helped Angel in moving forward. Right before completing the class, he successfully interviewed to work at Northrop Grumman.

“A lot of things I do at work here I learned at Lost Angels,” says Angel who grew-up in a single parent household and had only a few meaningful interactions with role models outside of the program. “Now, I’m working with people twice as old as me—just like I did here,”

Aaron had a troubled youth, using alcohol and drugs starting at nine years old and going to jail as a teenager, he turned his life around and opened a body car shop in Lancaster by the early 2000s.

“For myself I see a lot of these young kids and they are younger versions of ourselves,” explains Aaron. “When I was 18, if I had this, it would have helped me so much.”

Being able to weave partnerships in the community is what led to Angel to be hired by Northrop Grumman. The aerospace technology company is one employer partner. When they asked Aaron to submit candidates for a position, Angel was on the top of the list.

“When I had my third interview here at the Lost Angels with Northrop Grumman, they asked me if I was really interested in going to school and I told them: ‘yes, I want to get my degree,’” says Angel. “They threw it on the table that Northrop could pay for my courses”

Angel is one of more than 200 youths that have gone through the program, which has seen 197 of them employed. Of those, 176 are in manufacturing, aerospace related jobs, and other high wage employment. He still visits the Lost Angels facility in Lancaster, which has since grown from 1,500 square feet to 15,000. Mostly, he tries to inspire new students, to not give up and to learn and follow what the program teaches them.

“I come not to tell my story, but to tell them if I could do it, you guys can do it too,” says Angel.

He expects to finish his degree in the next couple of years, fulfilling what he calls his five-year plan. As a teenager, he graduated from high school, making his mother proud. Working in the aerospace industry, he also bought his first car – another goal of his.

“My next one I would have to say, my next five-year goal plan, I want to build my house, I want to own one of my dream cars, I want to start a business… just those three at the moment, but throughout the years, more are to come,” explains Angel.

As for Lost Angels, Aaron says there are over 500 low-income, high-barrier youth waiting to get in the program. He hopes more partners like JVS SoCal can help even more disadvantaged youth.

“JVS SoCal has been with us from the beginning and really helped us grow and continue to help us grow. It’s an amazing team and we are proud to be a part of it,” concludes Aaron.