The Year Up program sets up Chicago youth, 18-24, with college credit and paid internships to help close the opportunity gap.

CHICAGO (WLS) — Finding a job for a young person in Chicago can be difficult, especially if they don’t have a college degree.

One Chicago program is trying to change that.

“Year Up is a one-year program that enables low income 18 to 24-year-olds to move from minimum wage to meaningful careers with some of the very best companies across the entire country,” Year Up CEO and Founder Gerald Chertavian said.

Chertavian founded Year Up in 2000, after volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Since then, the program has spread to cities across the United States, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

“Year Up works in technology, in financial operations, customer service, project management. We serve a range of what’s called middle-skilled jobs across the industry,” Chertavian said.

“Their main focus is on getting young talented people the skills that they would need to be able to operate in corporate America,” added Hector Guzman, Cohort 17 Year Up graduate. “So we get interview skills, they learn how to write effective resumes, learn how to dress, learn how to speak.”

The program typically lasts for a year, hence the name Year Up. There are six months of training and development, then six months of a paid internship.

“To dress up every day and to feel important and to know that I have a purpose and that I’m working toward a goal and that I’m being held accountable. It’s just great,” Year Up Graduate Mya Neita said.

“It keeps you in shape and keep you level-headed and when you instantly apply that into a corporate environment you’re immediately able to put exactly what you learned into effect and I was able to be surrounded by professionals in an environment I’ve never been in before,” added Raven Scott, Cohort 17 Year Up graduate.

During the program, students also earn college credit. They take five courses with the City Colleges of Chicago, to help get them back on track to obtaining a degree.

“People may say, there’s no way that there’s such a program where they teach you all these skills and you get an internship and they pay you to go there,” Guzman said. “In a world where people have to deal with student loans, there’s no way that type of program exists. But it does.”

Graduates of the program want people to know that Year Up does its best to set you up for success, but you have to put in the effort too.

“You just have to take that leap and just bet on yourself pretty much because you can do it and year up gives you the tools to do it but you just have to believe in yourself first,” Naime Davison, Year Up graduate said.

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