Nonprofit Year Up teaches skills, helps young people find jobs

The Year Up class of Summer 2018 poses for a portrait.

In today’s economy, businesses struggle to fill positions due to the lack of qualified candidates. Meanwhile, talented under-served young adults lack access to education and work experience needed to change their career trajectory. That’s where Year Up Greater Atlanta comes in. For 10 years, the nonprofit has prepared thousands of under-served 18-24 year olds from Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties and empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.

“Millions of young adults are disconnected from a career path and Year Up is a program that will connect them to opportunities that will change their lives,” Year Up Development Manager Taisia Grissom shared.

The one-year program includes: six months of classroom learning in coursework eligible for college credit, a six month internship, a bi-weekly stipend, and wraparound support from staff, mentors and alumni. The program has two locations – one in Midtown just blocks from the Fox Theater and on the Atlanta Technical College campus.

“We teach hard and soft skills. Everyone receives entry-level IT skills and then specialize,” Grissom said. “Other tracks include desktop support, project management, and software development.”

Soft skills focus on personal and professional development. Year Up sets professional norms and core values – Strive to Learn, Be Accountable, Build Trust Be Honest, Respect and Value Others, Engage and Embrace Diversity, and Work Hard and Have Fun – for participants to follow. If they repeatedly don’t meet expectations, such as turning assignments in late or not coming to class, they risk “exiting themselves out of the program.”

Many participants experience “outside stressors,” like unstable housing, food insecurities or taking care of children, siblings and/or parents. Despite these challenges, they push themselves to complete the program in order to secure a better future.

“I will use myself as an example because I am a minority and my family comes from hardships, not having the luxury to afford college or even a car,” student Margarita Alfaro said. “Year Up gives us the resources, support and experiences to actually intern and make a name for ourselves.”

Margarita (in front) and sister Paulina Alfaro after they passed their Excel certification.

Alfaro, a cyber security student, commutes to Year Up by MARTA bus and train, which takes two hours each way.

“A lot of students go through this program from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then they work another job to make ends meet,” Grissom added.

Year Up conducts outreach at high schools, job fairs, MARTA ads and on social media, but program graduates are their most effective ambassadors.

“We have over 1,200 alumni. When a new learning community starts in March and September, approximately 80 percent are there because of word of mouth,” Grissom said.

Every six months the program welcomes 220 new students who are placed into five learning communities, of approximately 45 students each. The alumni network is strong. They come back as speakers, and mentors and they host events, like their annual holiday toy and book drive for students/alumni with children.

Margarita’s sister, Paulina, entered the program first and is nearly finished with her software development internship at Cox Automotive. Others intern at one of Year Up’s 50-plus other corporate partners, including Bank of America, Equifax and Kaiser Permanente, which also offers free health insurance to every program participant.

“I saw her [Paulina] go through it – how much she grew, how much she learned and how well she is doing. I wanted to try it to see where I’d end up and I really love the program,” Margarita said.

Both sisters have a reason to be optimistic. Within four months of completing the program, nearly 95 percent of the July 2018 graduating class were employed and earning a livable wage and/or enrolled in postsecondary school.

Perhaps, the greatest challenge Year Up faces in the decade ahead is keeping up with the demand.

“We receive thousands of applications and can only serve 440 each year. There is a great need,” Grissom said. “Every six months we onboard a new class, a class goes out on internship and a class graduates. You can see lives being changed. If you are passionate about life transformation this is an organization that you would want to get involved with.”

For more information about the program, visit yearup.org.

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