When it comes to making business decisions, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians found success by adhering to a strategy best expressed in the Tribe’s motto: “Building a Future for Generations to Come.” This desire for stability and sustainability colors all Viejas economic planning, and over the past 33 years has led to the creation of Ma-Tar-Awa RV Park, Viejas Casino & Outlet Center, Viejas Entertainment & Production, Borrego Springs Bank and other thriving, tribal-owned-and-operated business ventures. The wisdom of this approach is verifi ed by the overall growth of the Tribe’s economic base—from a small enterprise with only a few tribal employees in 1976 into today’s multi-million dollar business empire with thousands of employees that positively impacts the San Diego community and continues to foster thousands of jobs for individuals on and off the Viejas Reservation. Throughout the years, many Viejas tribal members have held a variety of roles within Viejas businesses and have worked their way up the “corporate ladder.” They helped the enterprises grow and prosper, and now, as elders of the community, can watch and be proud of what they created. Today, a new generation within the Viejas community has the obligation to carry on what the elders created, and continue present-day economic success into future generations. How can this be done? The answer is simple: Involve tribal members in both business and government opportunities to create a vested interest and voice in the future of the enterprises. Viejas wanted to inspire more people from within their community to become involved in their economy, to create new leaders and strengthen the growing businesses, and thus formed the Tribal Internship Program to help accomplish this goal. “Building future leaders within our community is a top priority for our Tribe and this program has been extremely beneficial in exposing participants not only to all aspects of our businesses, but as well as our Tribal Government operations and its importance,” said Greybuck Espinoza, Tribal Councilmember who was instrumental in incorporating the Tribal Government portion of the internship program. “The ultimate reward would be to see more tribal leaders emerge from this program.” The Tribal Internship Program came about because one determined and eager tribal Member, Daniel Espinoza III, decided he wanted to make a difference in his community and become more involved. So in 2002 he approached the Viejas Human Resources department and expressed his desire to learn more about Viejas as a business. To help him reach this goal, Viejas put together a detailed internship program centered on the Tribe’s casino. “I was inspired by the opportunity,” Espinoza said. “I realized I had a chance to make something of myself and, more importantly, set a positive example for my children.” For the next three years, Espinoza dedicated himself to the program—moving throughout departments within Viejas Casino, learning the roles, meeting executives, getting to know regular guests and gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience. Today, he is the table games manager for the casino, but it was a long road that got him there. “I’ve worked in many different venues within the casino,” Espinoza said. “I’ve worked as a food and beverage server, slot representative, cage cashier, purchasing buyer, entertainment and production manager, bingo manager, poker room manager and OTB manager. Needless to say, I’ve seen a lot throughout the 15 years I’ve worked at Viejas Casino. I have gained invaluable experience.” In addition to Espinoza, numerous other Viejas tribal members have participated in the internship program since its inception. Despite this success, the Tribe formed a working group comprising various Tribal Council and community members in 2008 with the goal of maximizing the potential of the program. The result was the Tribal Management Internship Program. “The best part of the new program is that we now have an advisory team who is there to coach, assist, help and inspire the interns to ensure they are receiving the best experience possible,” said Robin Lackie, a Viejas tribal member and Viejas ADA Representative, who as a member of the working group helped to develop the new program. The new one-to-three year program has interns rotating into every department within the Tribe’s casino, retail and government enterprises, learning the importance and responsibilities of each. Upon completion of the rotation, the intern chooses the department they are most interested in and starts a six-month intensive training period focusing on that department. Upon completion of the training, the intern is hired as a manager within the department. To date, five Viejas tribal members have enrolled in the program. “Our hope is to have our tribal members hold a management position in different departments,” Lackie said. Starla Espinoza, 23, has been a tribal management intern for over a year and is about to finish her department rotations. She has decided to work in the Commission Surveillance office once has been through all departments. “Every department had its and lows, but I love the investigation and research side of surveillance,” Espinoza said. “I was to school for criminal justice I joined this program, so with the Surveillance Department goes along the same lines.” Espinoza, who was inspired by her brother to join the program, felt it was important for her to get involved in tribal business and is looking forward to having a career of her own. “Thanks to this program I have a jump start on a career that I know I am going to love,” she said.
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