Published May 13, 2021 at 11:04am.
Story by Nancy McGuire. Photos by Josie Gammett.
For Mary Lynn Amoyo, Senior Director of Philanthropy for the nonprofit program Year Up, the last year has been the year of pivots: a pivot for Year Up staff, for Dallas College El Centro instructors, for corporate partners and especially, a pivot for students. Despite all the challenges and changes due to COVID-19, the program’s stakeholders have persevered and found their way in an ever-changing environment, a lesson extremely valuable for young people to learn in making their way in the world.
Year Up was started in 2000 in Boston by Gerald Chertavian, a technology entrepreneur and Wall Street banker. Having served as a Big Brother in the local program, he came to the realization there was an opportunity divide that prevented the young adults he mentored from accessing meaningful educational and career opportunities. He founded Year Up with the framework that, while talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. Building a path for success, Year Up is helping these talented, motivated, and hard-working young adults become valuable resources to companies across the United States.
Now operating in more than 30 locations and having served over 30,000 students, Year Up programs are available from Boston to Seattle, and from San Francisco to Jacksonville, Florida. Opening a campus in Dallas in conjunction with Dallas College El Centro Campus in 2016, approximately 120 students are admitted every six months. Currently, enrollees must be aged between 18-26 years old, have completed high school or attained a GED, and any students who are not yet citizens must have a green card or be DACA certified. Enrollment combines college-level classes taught through Dallas College El Centro Campus in three main career pathways including Business Operations/Financial Operations, Information Technology, and Software Development Support, with job-ready career training and a six-month internship placement with local corporate partners. Upon completion of the year-long program, graduates join an alumni network of more than 18,000, and have access to professional placement services for their entire career through Year Up Professional Resources (YUPro).
“I like to say that I connect people to their passion to help nonprofits meet their mission,” says Mary Lynn. She assumed her position at Year Up just prior to the start of the pandemic in November 2019, after serving ten years in several different advancement positions at SMU. While she works with a team to raise philanthropic support, she also gets to see students’ progress co-coaching and interacting with students throughout their duration in the program. Along with other members of the Year Up staff, Mary Lynn mentors students in skills such as personal branding, resume building and professionalism in the workplace. A mantra often recited at Year Up is “high expectations, high support.”
In discussing the impact of the pandemic on their programs and students, she marvels at the resilience of all who have worked so hard to maintain Year Up standards in trying times. This includes moving all academic and professional skills training courses online as well as adhering to corporate partners’ workplace guidelines including virtual and in-person internships.
“We had already been studying how to shift to more technology-enabled solutions to help us scale and serve more young adults when COVID hit and the pandemic accelerated this process,” says Mary Lynn. “Year Up staff have assisted students in addressing challenges, such as technology access, providing care for family members, food/housing insecurity due to the unemployment of family members and other obstacles. Through the Student Services Team, students are connected to much needed resources and have the opportunity to participate in online platforms like ‘Mindful Mondays’ to discuss how to overcome the obstacles they face and how Year Up can support them.”
Mary Lynn speaks with pride about the students she’s witnessed navigate an ever-changing school and work environment. One such Year Up graduate is Brandon Green. A Dallas native, Brandon graduated from DISD’s Kimball High School and was enrolled at Dallas College El Centro Campus pursuing a Google IT support technology certification when a Year Up representative reached out to him about the Year Up program. Brandon took the chance, applied, and found success with Year Up. As one of the older students in the program, he was already living on his own and worked part time jobs during the year to make ends meet, but the short term sacrifice was worth the long term gain.
Inspired by his uncle who has held various positions within the Information Technology (IT) field, Brandon selected and completed Year Up’s IT track and now works full time as a Senior Computer Operations Technologist at Bank of America. In that role, he and his team oversee technology that allows trades to reach their correct destination. Additionally, he still uses the SQL language he learned during the Year Up program. While Brandon’s entire Year Up experience was in person, he and his Bank of America teammates moved to work from home shortly after he joined the company, staying virtually connected to his team and employees he met during his internship.
“Brandon is a shining example of strong technology talent who otherwise may not have considered a career at a bank if he hadn’t been a Year Up participant,” says Nicholas Clevenger, Production Services Manager for Global Business Services at Bank of America.
Partnerships with non-traditional technology training programs like Year Up provide meaningful careers to motivated young adults, and valuable talent to companies across the country including DocuSign, Exelon Corporation, and Salesforce.
Brandon’s advice to a young person after high school who is unsure what they want to do next is: “You are capable of much more than you may think and it is a sign of strength to lean on others during hard and challenging times.” Brandon says, “Work hard now to find your direction so you can establish yourself in a relevant career path. The time and effort put in now will position you with the foundation for stability and the ability to schedule in down time.”
If you would like to learn more or get involved with Year Up, you can visit Year Up.org for ways to volunteer, connect, or find details about hiring Year Up graduates.