Roberto Velez has had the exact opposite of a charmed life. His mother left him when he was two. He was in foster care when his grandmother came from Puerto Rico to claim him. There were sometimes calm stretches with his grandmother, but then his father would get out of jail and menace them. To escape his father, Roberto took to the streets. He worked at McDonald's and lived in train stations and parks. Another organization directed Roberto to Year Up. "If it wasn’t for them," he says, "I would be out of school, on the street, doing a lot of things I wouldn't want to do."
At the completion of the program he was offered a position at Merrill Lynch. Despite the fact that he considers this job "the greatest thing to ever happen to me," he is not worried about losing it to the recession. He has already endured far greater traumas. Roberto now has a vision of the future that includes being a good father to his child who will be born next year.
Lisette Nieves attended Brooklyn College and went on to become the first Puerto Rican to win a Rhodes scholarship. She also has a master's degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton. For 20 years Lisette has dedicated herself to youth services, including working as the Chief of Staff for the N.Y.C. Department of Youth and Community Development. "This is our last chance to give young people a shot at a better life," she says. "It's our last chance to get them thinking about their values, and what kind of parents and citizens they want to be. To miss this opportunity is a crime."
Founded in Boston by Gerald Chertavian, Year Up is a one-year intensive program for urban youth aimed at closing the opportunity divide. The program combines marketable job skills, stipends, apprenticeships, college credit, a behavior management system and several levels of support to place these young adults in college and in jobs in the financial services industry. During the first six months of the program, participants focus on skill mastery in either Desktop Support/IT Help Desk or Investment Operations. In the second half of the year, students are placed in apprenticeships with local partner companies. The results have been outstanding. There is an 83 percent student retention rate, and 90 percent of the apprentices meet or exceed partner expectations.