by Grace Austin

There exist strong disparities in the opportunities that low-income youth and their wealthier peers face post-high school. While well-off young adults may head off to college or travel the world, lower income youth often become trapped in cycles of dead-end jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. Coupled with a downtrodden economy, these situations can seem even more devastating to a young person with seemingly no options.

Founded in Boston in 2000, Year Up attempts to combat this “opportunity divide.” A one-year program designed for young adults from the inner cities, Year Up trains students in business and technical skills while incorporating a corporate internship program. The program focuses on two growing industries, IT and financial services. Gerald Chertavian, the founder and CEO, was an active Big Brother in Manhattan beginning in the 1980s. His relationship with his Little Brother David inspired him to create an organization focused on “high support, high expectations.”

“I thought is was a great opportunity for myself in the situation I was currently in. It was something I kind of fell in love with,”

Year Up serves over 1,000 young adults each year in nine urban locations throughout the country. The Year Up Alumni Association currently maintains over 1,000 members. Statistics are remarkably high for internship placement and overall success rates, a feat that is not lost on Sarah Janas, Marketing Manager.

“There’s nothing on a national level that does what we do. We really bring together two very different groups of people: the disadvantaged urban youth, and corporate partners that are struggling to find entrylevel talent. It’s kind of a win-win situation. We’re very proud of it,” said Janas.

Jose Castillo can attest to the program’s success. Castillo graduated in July 2010 and now works as Development Coordinator for Year Up.

“I thought is was a great opportunity for myself in the situation I was currently in. It was something I kind of fell in love with,” said Castillo. “If I hadn’t done the program, I wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to see what corporate America is about coming from where I came from.” The Economic Mobility Program, a non-profit company whose goal is to find successful programs for the economically disadvantaged, has found participation in Year Up improved a graduate’s annual earnings by 30%.

“It’s really fantastic. It’s the first report with hard data that was years and years in the making and a lot of time went into it. It’s great to see the numbers. We always knew it worked, but it was tough to back it up,” said Janas. “The proof is there—the program works.”

One of the organization’s goals is to teach professional and business skills, including how to successfully work in a corporate office and talk to colleagues and employers in a professional manner.

“Our students are learning soft skills and technical skills driven by the market. [They] are learning business writing, customer service, professional skills, and various things like this,” said Tamika Mason, Director of Organizational Development. “We also do resumé writing and interview skill workshops. We do a number of things for our students to enter into college part-time or full-time as well as transition them into the next full-time [job] opportunity.”

Year Up Participants

The corporate internship program partners with leading companies in a variety of fields, including Harvard University, Staples, Wells Fargo, Google, and Mount Sinai Hospital. This portion of the program lasts six months.

“The internship taught me the different personalities you deal with on a daily basis with colleagues as well as the clients. It taught me how to adjust and keep an open mind, and focus on the task at hand,” said Castillo.

Another unique feature at the organization is the amount of mentoring and guidance available. Thirty-five students are placed in a learning community, with ten staff members guiding them through the year-long process.

“Those staff members may have other functional jobs; they may be in marketing, admissions, or operations, but they are there to help the students. Having one point of contact that’s going to ask students about their growth and development and how they’re doing at each of the transitional stages has really been key to the advising relationship. That’s our way of making sure no students fall through the cracks,” said Mason.

In regards to diversity, a majority of participants in the program are African American and Latino. Year Up has tried to mirror this within their organization.

“We make sure that while we’re doing our recruiting, we’re ensuring that there is a diverse pool among multiple dimensions of diversity, not just race and ethnicity but gender and other dimensions. We make sure that we make hiring decisions only after we have great, diverse pools of talent,” said Mason.

In the future, Year Up looks to expand further, making its services available in more cities and to more youth. “In five years, we see ourselves growing to three more cities and doubling the students we serve and the staff that we have supporting our services to students. We [also] want to see system changes on the national and local level. We recognize that the systems [our students] are operating in and going to school in helps contribute to the opportunity divide that exists in America,“ said Mason. “We want to serve [disconnected youths] by the millions.”

Castillo already sees the difference Year Up has made on himself, and reiterates the organization’s message of closing the “opportunity divide.”

“Year Up is reaching out to the community and giving these opportunities to a lot of kids who feel like they don’t have them but they’re really there for them. Through the whole year, month to month, I started to realize that everything I was doing was having an impact on my peers as well,” said Castillo. “It’s taking that initiative and knowing that everything you do has a direct impact on everyone around you.”

This article has been sponsored by:
Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diveristy & Inclusion