How a 10-Year-Old Boy Gave 13,000 Young Adults the Chance to Get Ahead

Fifty-four to Sixty-four Rutgers Street. Eighteenth floor, Apartment G. This is the address of the housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where I first met David Heredia, my Little Brother. In 1987 David was a 10-year-old boy from the Dominican Republic, and his neighborhood was infamous as the most heavily photographed crime scene in New York City. This was no small recognition given the crack epidemic ravaging our cities at the time.

I spent every Saturday with David. I was religious about it, and built a relationship with him that lasts to this day. David has four brothers, and at ten he had a passion for drawing and a dream of one day going to college. But the color of his skin, the bank balance of his mother, and the ZIP code he was born into didn’t make it easy for him. I remember attending a parent-teacher conference on behalf of his mother, who had to work that night. I asked David’s teacher about his progress in school, and the teacher responded by scratching his head, looking up at the ceiling, and wondering aloud, “Which one is David?”

David’s experience opened my eyes to the Opportunity Divide in America today. He had enormous talent and drive, but he needed some help to realize his potential. He didn’t need a handout, he needed a hand up. And David isn’t the only one. Millions of young adults across America are out of work and out of school, disconnected from the economic mainstream and up against the myriad challenges of poverty. As David became a part of my family, I couldn’t help but think of those young adults who shared the same drive but lack the opportunities to put it to good use.

In 1989, as an answer to question 10 on my business school application—“What are your career plans?”—I laid out the vision that would become Year Up: “Young, talented minds are being wasted and unless an effort is made to provide...logical, well-organized frameworks for these individuals to pursue their aspirations, a Third World will begin to develop within our own country.” Ten years after writing those words I founded Year Up, and today it is one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in our nation’s history.

Year Up equips low-income young adults with market-relevant technical skills, as well as the professional skills needed to thrive in the corporate environment. Skills like business writing, resume presentation, critical thinking and teamwork are critical to success in a professional environment, yet many young people have never had the chance to build these skills. By receiving training in line with employers’ hiring needs as well as six-month internships at companies like JPMorgan Chase, Facebook, Bank of America, AT&T, and State Street, our young adults can prove that they are the economic assets we need, not the social liabilities they are often perceived to be.

Over the past fifteen years, Year Up has served over 13,000 young adults in 16 cities across the country. Over the next five years, Year Up will serve nearly 35,000. These young adults will move into professional careers and pursue postsecondary education, and in the process they will start to pay taxes, gain healthcare coverage, and provide for their families in a way many could not have imagined possible. But 35,000 young adults represent just one half of one percent of the young adults in America today who need a Year Up. There is a critical need to create pathways for young adults to enter the economic mainstream, and Year Up is one of many. In order for America to remain competitive in the 21st century, we need to find a way for all our people, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, to realize their full potential.

Gerald Chertavian is the CEO and founder of Year Up, an innovative program that empowers urban young adults to enter the economic mainstream. With its annual operating budget of approximately $90M, Year Up is the largest youth-serving nonprofit founded since 2000. Gerald has received numerous awards for social entrepreneurship and youth development, and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative. In 2013 he was appointed to serve as Chairman of Roxbury Community College by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. A graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Business School, Gerald lives in Boston with his wife and three children.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Innovation, Management & Leadership, Skills Gap,
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