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Inspired by his 10-year-old “Little Brother,” David Heredia, recent Harvard Business School grad Gerald Chertavian decided to address the “Opportunity Divide” that adversely affected his young friend, and thousands more like him. In his words, “I thought it was so wrong that the opportunities he had access to in life could be limited due to things like his zip code, the color of his skin, the bank balance of his mother, or the school system he attended. We are wasting so much talent in a country where we have no one to waste.”

In 2000, Chertavian founded Year Up, a non-profit beacon of light for those striving against all odds to attain professional careers. Their mission is simple:

To close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills experiences and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.

As is their vision:

In the future, every urban young adult will have access to the education, experiences, and guidance required to realize his or her true potential.

Year Up is dedicated to assist students “who have been systematically disconnected from the vast economic opportunities in the United States, resulting in limited access to education, financial stability, social capital, political power, and sufficient health services.”

What’s the Opportunity Divide?

The driving motivation behind Year Up’s mission is their goal to bridge the deep chasm preventing urban youth from obtaining gainful employment. They cite a sobering fact to illustrate this challenge: In the United States, 6 million talented young adults with a GED or high school diploma go unemployed or underemployed while 14 million jobs requiring post-secondary education will go unfilled in the next decade. It’s Year Up’s purpose to prepare the nation’s young & eager to fill those vacancies.

Provided with mentors, advisors and tutors, Year Up students receive a rigorous, holistic crash course, if you will, arming them with tools essential for professional achievement.

As the name suggests, Year Up is an intensive one-year program that enriches scholars both in the classroom while providing on site training. The initial 6 months of the program are dedicated to teaching students various skills vital for success in a corporate setting – many stand to earn up to 18 college credits in the process. Year Up students receive on the job training through internships that are often paid. A number of eligible students receive stipends. Additionally, Year Up graduates continue to receive support and develop professional networks through Year Up’s Alumni Association.

Year Up stats cultivated over the past decade:

  • 4,000 + alumni
  • 250 + Corporate partners
  • 1,900 students currently enrolled
  • 100% placement of qualified Year Up students into internships.
  • 91% of corporate partners would recommend the Year Up program to a friend or colleague
  • 85% of graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of completing the program.
  • Employed Year Up graduates earn an average of $15 per hour – the equivalent of $30,000 per year.

One of the most unique aspects of Year Up is their perspective on  multi-culturalism within Corporate America. Not only do they provide their scholars with promising opportunities, they view their graduates as an asset to any company because “diverse and culturally aware groups increase value in educational and work settings by generating creative, effective, and inclusive thinking and action.”

Year Up Graduation 2013 from Yoyostring Creative Media on Vimeo.

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  • Courtney**

    I love that this exists. I hate that it’s needed. This is what SCHOOL should be for. This is what our tax dollars should be funding in the form of public, quality, accessible education regardless of skin color, zip code, or parents’ bank accounts. But we all know a lot of success nowadays is through who you know, which is based on who you met in private school or college/Ivy League universities, and their equally well-connected families. That’s a bit of an extreme example but the same mentality holds true across many, if not most professional circuits.

    And of course not everyone should have or wants to do a “professional/corporate” circuit. There needs to be far less for-profit trade schools profitting off the ignorance and desperation of those who really want to better themselves but haven’t received enough good information about how to go about it – and far more trade-oriented paths/opportunities in public education as well.

  • Afrostyling

    We actually have 2 young adults in our IT department that came to us through a year up internship. A man and a woman. Very hardworking folks.