Meet California State Guard Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Gonzalez

Story by U.S. Army Sgt Marla Ogden
California Military Department Public Affairs

Jan. 17, 2024

Los Alamitos, Calif.— California State Guard's Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Gonzalez is not only a Grizzly Youth Academy success story but a prime example of what giving back looks like.

Like many cadets who chose to attend Grizzly Youth Academy's alternative high school program, as a teen, Gonzalez recognized he was heading down an undesirable path, facing academic challenges due to grappling with setbacks associated with gang involvement.

But Gonzalez was determined to make a positive change. That change was sparked by Grizzly Youth Academy.

"Once I completed Grizzly Youth Academy, I was able to return to my high school and get my diploma," he said. "I then went on to take college courses, and I was even able to get a job at another youth program in my area. There, I mentored students that I ended up referring to Grizzly Youth Academy as well."

Having overcome his battles, it was important for him to help steer youth away from situations he once endured.

"That was my biggest thing, to go back and to show them that there is a way out even though you're doing bad things at home," he said, having worked at the academy since 2005.

Currently serving as Cadre Supervisor for the program, Gonzalez shares his story with cadets to let them know change is possible.

"I talk to the students, every class, every student," he said. "They come through here; and I let them know my story from the beginning, middle, and end of the program to remind them there's something positive that they can achieve here."

Gonzalez said that establishing trust and building rapport with the cadets is crucial to effectively mentoring them.

"They often come in with a lot of baggage or trauma, but if you can identify with them to guide them, it'll help," he explained. "I tell them 'the best experience I have to help you guys out is my past.'"

Gonzalez emphasized the significance of youth having strong role models.

"I didn't have the right guidance or people in my life to teach me to make the right choices," he said. "So, I see a lot of myself in these students."

For him, the most gratifying aspect of his role is witnessing the cadets' transformation.

Gonzalez shared an account of one cadet who landed a job with the skills learned in the program.

"He came back and was like 'Sergeant! I would never think that what you guys taught us here would help us out there until I got this job, until they liked my professionalism, the way that I stood, the way I talk,' he was so excited and felt good about himself," Gonzalez shared.

"It's amazing just seeing that they can make the change and they can make a difference for themselves," he said. "It's rewarding to see the students achieve those goals."