Councilman Kenneth Oliver told the 2013 Year Up graduating class that it is time to give back to the community.
The Year Up program is a one year training program that provides urban youth with a combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, and an educational stipend to prepare the young people for the important experience of becoming an intern with a small business, corporation, or government agency.
In 2010 the present writer was invited to cover Year Up and to learn about its mission. Having met parents, students, volunteers, and staff of the Year Up program for several years it is clear that the program works and continues to give urban youth a year of training and preparation that has been successful.
“We need corporate sponsors to increase the number of young people that we can help in the program. We now have space for many more students but we need corporate sponsors to work with us to give these young people the opportunity. We offer hope for the future,” Site director Lameteria D. Hall said.
Year Up recognized and identified a problem that exists in America that many politicians, business leaders, and public school officials had failed to resolve. Over six million urban youth had been allowed to fall through the cracks of the system. These young people could be seen on the streets of Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and many other urban centers walking aimlessly up and down the streets without education, jobs, or hope. Year Up stepped in to address these young people.
The dirty secret is that many of the school officials who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix the problem fixed nothing but their own bank accounts. These young people continued to walk the streets of urban America looking hopeless, forgotten, and neglected.
Gerald Chertavian did not ignore the fact that 6.7 million urban youth had been allowed to fall through the system ignored by high school teachers, principals, and superintendents. Chertavian asked a question, “Why isn’t there a program to help these young people reach their potential,” he asked. The first order of business for Chertavian was to recognize that a national “opportunity divide” existed.
He then came up with a cutting edge model which included high support from site staff who were more concerned about helping young people than collecting a pay check. The passion of the Year Up program was to give urban youth education, experience, support, and guidance by adults who sincerely loved and had compassion for the urban youth. This model became the cornerstone of the Year Up program and the fundamental keys to its success 13 year after Chertavian became the founder and CEO of Year Up.
On Wednesday July 31, 2013, small business leaders, major corporate sponsors, parents, students, and Year Up national and local executives and staff gathered at the Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys on 100 Village Square in Baltimore to recognize the achievements of the most recent graduates of the Year Up program in Baltimore.
As the photographs from the celebration illustrate the parents and students beamed with joy and happiness as the year of hard work and dedication came to a close with jobs and internships waiting for each graduate. “It is not where you come from but where you end up that matters,” said Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver.
Oliver gave a passionate keynote address to all who gathered with a clear message, “You have to give back to the community,” he said. Oliver bowed his head and then looked directly into the eyes of the successful business leaders and reminded them that they had an obligation to give back to the community that made their success possible.
Oliver spoke from experience as the first African-American elected to the Baltimore County Council in 2002. He championed the cause for people who were left out of the political process. He was instrumental in bringing a Walmart to Randallstown, Maryland. He also helped to bring a Home Depot to Brenbrook Plaza, and a senior citizens housing complex to Woodlawn.
However, the best indication of a successful youth employment program is based on the students in the program. The leaders at Year Up in Baltimore always give the students the chance to speak and to share their experience. The speech this year by Veronica Middleton of West Baltimore is an excellent case in point.
The 19 year old 2013 graduate of the Year Up program stood before the business leaders, parents, and guests and told about her Year Up experience. However, when she began to talk about how Hall and her staff helped her she could not hold back the tears of gratitude. Many in the audience were touched to tears by the sincere indication of how much the Year Up program had changed the life of this young woman.
Lisette Nieves, National Director of Strategic Program Pilots for Year Up, was on stage to support Middleton. “She recovered. Those were tears of gratitude. What makes this country amazing and great is that everybody can serve. Everyone should give. Giving is not just the responsibility of one group. Giving allows us to have dignity even when we have very little. Being able to give gives us confidence. For those who have plenty in this environment, giving reminds them of the social responsibility in the world for the blessings that have been put upon them. But giving should be a universal value that we all share,” Nieves said.
Another key to the Year Up success story is the ability of the program leaders to encourage important people to take the time to teach the youth. Over the years of covering the program there have been many distinguished and accomplished individuals who had taken the time to help the urban youth in the program. President Barack Obama has taken the time to visit with Year Up students and to offer his support of the program. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler addressed the Year Up graduates in January. Congressman John Sarbanes took time from his business schedule to meet with Year Up graduates in January 2012.
Senior Director of Program Noel Scott Anderson, Ph.D., took time to talk about his passion for the Year Up program even as his flight time to New York was quickly approaching. “We are looking right now at a country that has about 6 million disconnected young people. Disconnected is defined as either not working or in school. That population has increased over the last decade in significant way. What we are seeing on one end is that growing population and what we see on the other side is about 3 million jobs, middle skill jobs, that require less than a B.A., that are opening in America and available in America that need this population. Ultimately our goal is to make certain that we create the bridge for those students into those opportunities,” Scott said.
As parents stood their children the words of the leaders of the Year Up program were repeated. “This program has help my son,” one proud father said as he stood beside the recent Year Up graduate. A mother held her daughter proudly and gave clear support for what Year Up had done for her daughter.
Year Up co-founder Paul Salem says it best, “Year Up is a great investment; great for the students, the corporate partner, the mentors and the investors. Year Up is working toward a solution to eliminate the Opportunity Divide on a systemic basis that will help ensure that our businesses and our nation can compete in a global economy.”
For small business leaders and corporations looking for a way to give back to the community Year Up has a solution. Go to www.yearup.org to find out how your business can give back to the community through Year Up.