CAYLA summer internships equip Asheville students for college and the workplace

CAYLA special screen design


They’re heading back to school in a few days, but the 35 Asheville students who participated in the CAYLA program this summer take with them hands-on experience from paid internships that better prepare them for college and the workplace.


CAYLA stands for City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy. CAYLA recruits, trains and places local high school students at meaningful summer jobs with the City and with participating agencies, in addition to providing weekly day-long workshops on financial literacy, leadership, career exploration and 21st century job skills. The idea is to show Asheville students, most of whom are the first in their families to attend college, that  job opportunities exist in their community and hopefully retain them in the local workforce after college.


In order to receive their $2,000 CAYLA scholarship next spring, the CAYLA seniors must also complete 20 hours of community service. Workforce Development Programs Coordinator Erika Germer meets with CAYLA students throughout the school year, for group activities and one-on-one mentoring to help them with college applications. They do team-building exercises along the way to foster dialog, and delve into social justice issues that are affecting our community, such as (lack of) affordable housing, criminalization, and the opportunity gap.


Here’s a look at the experience of three students who were selected from a competitive applicant pool for the CAYLA program this summer.


Emily Pizarro-Lopez


Emily Pizarro-Lopez portrait
Emily Pizarro-Lopez

A rising senior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville (SILSA), Emily interned at Pisgah Legal Services, helping to set up immigration clinics appointments for the LatinX community. Born in the United States to parents from Mexico, Emily was able to help translate for clients as well.

“The immigration clinics help undocumented people by setting up a power of attorney for their children in case they get deported,” Emily explained. The clinic she helped with was at Emma Elementary School, where lawyers met with clients to advise them of their rights in case ICE came to their house.

She also went to Pisgah Legal’s Hendersonville office, where they provide services and support to Spanish-speaking domestic violence victims. Emily also attended domestic violence court hearings this summer.

Not surprisingly, she wants to pursue a career as an attorney. She already has her eye on six colleges she would like to attend after completing her Bachelor’s degree, including Elon Law School or Chapel Hill Law School.


Sabrina Kennedy

Sabrina Kennedy photo
Sabrina Kennedy

Also a rising senior at SILSA, Sabrina double-teamed her internship both in the Asheville City Manager’s office and the City’s Community and Public Engagement Department (CAPE). Sabrina attended City meetings and learned about the roles of various City departments. “I also got the chance to meet the City Council, the new Chief of Police and the City Attorney,” she said.

Under the mentorship of CAPE staff member Brenda Mills, Sabrina learned the importance of accurate and transparent communication with neighborhood groups.  Interning at City Hall gave Sabrina an inside look at what it’s like to work in a professional office environment, and how to connect with co-workers, she said.

An aspiring lawyer and photojournalist, she hopes to attend the University of Tennessee at Knoxville or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Sheila Bautista-Perez

Sheila Bautista-Perez photo
Sheila Bautista-Perez

A recent Asheville High graduate, Sheila interned at the Buncombe County Family Justice Center. In addition to working at the front desk, she distributed flyers for a VOICES event, helped organize boxes of clothing for distribution at the Family Justice Center, and helped set up at Camp HOPE, a program especially designed for children impacted by violence and abuse.

“I hope to get my master’s degree in psychology and become a therapist one day to help teenagers who have experienced some kind of trauma or have any mental health problems cope with it and be able to move on,” she said.

Sheila will attend Western Carolina University this fall, where she plans to major in psychology or social work, with a minor in Japanese


Field trips too

In addition to their work, social justice planning activities and public service projects, the CAYLA students enjoyed outside group activities this summer. Here are photos from two outings, one to Winding Creek Stables for team building and horseback riding, and a group hike at the YMCA Camp Greenville in South Carolina.

College bound

We’re proud to share that 100% of CAYLA seniors have been accepted to college and 80% of alumni have graduated from college or are on track to receive their degree.

To learn more about the CAYLA program, visit the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy webpage on the City of Asheville website. Or contact Workforce Development Programs Coordinator Erika Germer at or 828-271-6116.