When Victor Mora’s daughter got suspended from school for fighting several years ago, he wondered how sitting at home, away from the often tedious nature of classwork, was a punishment for her.
To Mora, letting suspended kids relax on the couch seemed almost like a reward for getting in trouble, he said.
“I remember thinking this is not right,” Mora said. “They get days off for being bad?”
So Mora came up with an idea: Instead of giving students the day off as punishment, why not put them to work for a local business?
They could perform basic job functions for the establishments as a way to just get outdoors, be constructive or take up a project — anything that pulled them away from the television, he said.
“It was a necessity in the beginning,” Mora said. “I had to do something.”
Mora collaborated with business partner Andres Caro and brought the idea to employees in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. He told them if students needed something to do, send them his way and he’d put them to work in Los Mexicanos, Mora and Caro’s restaurant, or Plaza Tapatia, their grocery store.
He’d also reach out to the students for support and help them anyway he could.
“They’ve got a lot of talent, but they need people to see those things and appreciate what they can do,” he said.
Now, most of the kids that come to work for Mora are trying to stay out of trouble, build up work experience or complete a class project. But the program isn’t limited to those things alone.
Students can stop by his restaurant for any reason they choose, and participation is completely voluntary.
Irvin Herrera, 15, is one student who has taken up Mora’s offer. He was working in Plaza Tapatia on Monday, stocking shelves and — above all else — staying out of a trouble.
The Mt. Tallac Continuation School student spent the summer in juvenile hall after run-ins with the law, he said. It was an ordeal that ended with him on probation.
After realizing he needed to turn his life around, he started working with Mora to build school credit and work experience.
“It’s just something for me to do and not be out of the streets,” Herrera said.
So far, the program has been good for him, he said. He hasn’t gotten in trouble since starting the program at the beginning of the month, and appreciates Mora’s support.
“He encourages us to do good,” Herrera said, “and gives us a push in the right direction.”
Mora said he would like to see the program expand and include other local businesses soon. To him, the more the community gets involved, the more students are likely to succeed.
“If we can help just a little,” Mora said, “Sometimes it’s enough.”