First Jobs Can Be Life-Changing – So We’re Providing 3,000 of Them

I always thought of myself one of the lucky ones. Luck, it seemed, was the sole determinant for who made it out of my neighborhood. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s, it seemed that violence and poverty were all around me; but still, I got out – one of the lucky ones. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve realized that it wasn’t luck at all. I am where I am today because meaningful interventions from caring adults put me on this pathway. And it all started with my first job.

I got my first job the summer after 9th grade. My aunt helped me get a job at the accounting firm where she worked as a bookkeeper. Somehow, she convinced her boss to hire her teenage niece to help out around the office. For $5 an hour, I made copies, filed documents, wrote checks, and did a variety of odd jobs for other staff. I began nervous and afraid, but I soon settled into a routine of assisting staff and completing the tasks assigned to me.

By the end of the summer, I was a real member of the team: Staff relied on me to take on increasingly more responsibilities; and I earned a reputation for being a hard worker and team player. In those months, I developed professional skills that would carry through the rest of my career. More than that, however, my experience that summer taught me that in spite of where I lived or how much money my family had, I belonged. Not only could I fit into an office where my coworkers’ experiences and upbringing were totally different than my own, I could thrive. That first summer of employment gave me confidence; it gave me hope.

I now proudly serve as CEO at Urban Alliance, an organization dedicated to providing under-resourced youth with the same positive experiences that my first summer job gave me. At Urban Alliance, we believe that all young people have the potential to succeed; but we also recognize that too many of these youth lack access to the opportunity to develop and showcase their talents and strengths. In fact, 6.7 million American youth aged 16 to 24 are disconnected from school and work: that’s roughly 14 percent of all American youth. What’s more, each of these “opportunity youth” costs taxpayers over $700,000 throughout his or her life through lost earnings, lower tax revenues, and higher government spending. 

For 20 years, our combination of paid, professional internships, mentoring, weekly professional development training, and case management has provided youth with the comprehensive support they need to thrive. Every year, over 90 percent of our alumni are accepted to college; 80 percent of those enrolled persist to a second year; and over 80 percent are connected to school, work, or training one year post-program.

We’ve placed over 2,000 youth in paid, professional internships in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Chicago, and Northern Virginia, and served an additional 15,000 through workshops with community partners – but we’re still growing. Recently, Urban Alliance was awarded an Investing in Innovation i3 grant from the Department of Education. Through this grant, we’ll be able to serve more youth than ever before. We’ll growth to scale in our four current regions and expand to a fifth in 2018. Over the next five years, Urban Alliance will give 3,000 youth their first job, by placing them in year-round internships.

We cannot leave the futures of our young people to luck any longer. At Urban Alliance, we’re committed to providing meaningful work and skills training to as many youth as we can; and that number is limited only by the number of partners we have. There are a number of ways to get involved, including sponsoring an intern. If you’d like to learn more about hosting an intern in your office, or sponsoring an internship at a nonprofit you support, please [click here]. Together, we can close the opportunity gap and create a world in which one’s future isn’t a matter of luck. We all have a role to play. Let’s make it happen.