Closing the Opportunity Divide … one person at a time

Francilia Jones, my Year Up mentee

Francilia Jones, my Year Up mentee

Watching your child succeed at something important in life tends brings that choked up feeling – pride swells your chest and you blink away a tear or two. Well, Francilia Jones is not my child, but I’ve mentored Francilia over the past year, and I felt all those same emotions as I watched her give her graduation speech at this year’s Year Up graduation ceremony.

Year Up is an organization that empowers urban, low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year. As a mentor at Year Up in Boston, every year I’m amazed at the transformation of these young adults. They come to the program with talent and motivation – but, unfortunately, lack skills, experience, and opportunities. However, with the help of Year Up, these young people can gain six months of professional training in IT, Finance, or Customer Service, a six month corporate internship with a respected company, and up to 24 college credits – all in the course of one year.

The program’s success rate is impressive; 85% of Year Up graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of completing the program. Those employed earn an average starting salary of $16 per hour – $32,000 per year for salaried employees.

In Francilia’s case, her family was supportive and she was accepted into her dream school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, a family illness and other misfortune meant that she could not afford to attend the school. She tried working to save money to do it on her own – and one day, Year Up’s Director of Student Services for Boston, Rob Fladger, entered the branch of the bank where she was working and told her she looked miserable. He told her about Year Up and she even attended an information session.

However, Francilia still wanted to do this on her own and tried attending college for one semester while working 70 hours per week. Needless to say, that didn’t work out. She still had Rob’s card and gave him a call. By joining the Year Up program, Francilia completed an internship at Harvard University and gained a passion for technology. She now hopes to attend community college and then gain her bachelor’s degree in computer science. She is also looking to work part-time to fulfill her goals. In the entrepreneurship program I help to lead at MIT we call it “escape velocity” and Francilia is on her way, but finding a job still is not easy.

In her graduation speech Francilia states, “I always knew that I could be more than by current situation. I always knew I could be better than my struggles.”  I couldn’t agree more.

I believe this really summarizes the Year Up program, and how it helps bright, motivated young people overcome their current situations. Year Up calls this the “Opportunity Divide” – millions of young adults in the U.S. have talent and motivation, but lack opportunity. They estimate that 6 million bright young people are without access to opportunities to connect to the economic mainstream. Meanwhile, over the next decade, American companies will face a shortage of over 14 million qualified workers. Year Up’s mission is to close the Opportunity Divide.

I wanted to share this experience because being a mentor is one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done. It puts your personal issues into check, and you just feel good helping to guide someone who is so motivated to succeed. Year Up is always looking for more mentors, so I encourage others to share their time and talents and learn what it takes to become a mentor for Year Up – they have locations in many cities throughout the U.S.

Plus, I’d also like to put a shout out to my network – Francilia is looking for her next job opportunity, preferably in the technology space. Any interest in hiring a hard-working “go-getter”? Please let me know and I will make the connection.

Year up logo

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