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Alyssa Gant looked across the table filled with baseball caps with the name of a different organization on each one. It was draft day, and she was hoping she’d be donning one of those caps before the day was over.
She didn’t have her sights set on the WNBA. Gant wanted to be picked for an internship at a large corporation in Atlanta.
“When I found out I was going to Elavon, I was so excited,” said Gant. “I knew it was going to be such a great opportunity.”
She was participating in “Internship Draft Day” last July at Year Up, a national organization that strives to “close the opportunity divide” for low-income young adults. Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides adults, ages 18-24, with hands-on skill development, college credit coursework, corporate internships and social work teams to help students handle outside stressors in their lives. Gerald Chertavian, who began his career in financial services, founded Year Up in Boston in 2000, and has since expanded it to 16 locations across the United States.
After Gant’s six-month internship at Elavon’s Atlanta headquarters, she was offered a full-time job in January in technology support for the Sales Enablement Team. It marked the successful culmination of a year-long journey for the 24-year-old – one that began with a conversation with a Macy’s co-worker, who told her about a program that paid you to take classes.
“I thought it was too good to be true, but when I got there, I thought, ‘This is where I belong,’” said Gant (pictured third from right below, on the first day of her internship).
Gant credits Year Up for providing job skills and corporate culture knowledge that she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, because she wouldn’t have known where to look for it.
“My father passed away when I was in 7th grade, so I was raised in a single-parent household,” she said. “It was really tough for my mom. I never understood why we couldn’t advance when she was working so hard. She would work at a warehouse 12 hours a day, and we were still facing eviction. Or we’d run out of food.”
Gant’s Year Up class was filled with young adults with similar backgrounds, many from single-parent households or foster homes. Most were living in high-stress situations, barely making ends meet at dead-end jobs. At Year Up, they got paid a stipend while taking 21 weeks of coursework, and got paid during their 26-week internships.
“Our mission is an economic one,” said Jonathan Mayo, director of corporate engagement at Year Up Greater Atlanta. “To see lives and generations change through career opportunities is amazing.”
Since opening in 2009, Year Up Greater Atlanta has served more than 1,500 students, with a 100 percent internship placement rate and 45 corporate partners, Mayo said. About 90 percent of graduates are employed at jobs that have an average starting wage of $17 to $18 an hour, well above Atlanta’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage.
Elavon, a U.S. Bank subsidiary, has sponsored 48 Year Up interns since 2013; 14 of them are now full-time employees. The partnership is part of the company’s Community Possible platform, which focuses its giving and volunteerism on closing the gap between people and possibility in the areas of Work, Home and Play.
Elavon Chief of Staff Kim Schwendeman has been leading the company’s engagement with Year Up for about 18 months, and can’t speak highly enough about the nonprofit.
“What’s so impressive about them is that they train the students on everything,” she said, “including things you wouldn’t expect, like proper use of dinnerware at a business function, or helping them with business clothes so they can dress professionally while they’re participating in the program.”
Elavon has had great success with the Year Up interns they’ve hired, Schwendeman said, including Byron Tolbert, PC specialist, whom she called “papa bear” to all of the Year Up interns at Elavon.
Tolbert, who was hired by Elavon in 2013, started taking new interns to lunch as a way of showing his appreciation for Year Up. His lunches include introductions to Elavon’s senior leaders and advice on Elavon’s corporate culture. Tolbert even scheduled an intern for a one-on-one meeting with Guy Harris, Elavon’s president of North America and Global Revenue.
“I know what the program did for me. I thought, ‘Why not give back to a program that gave me so much,’” said Tolbert, who also serves on the board of the Year Up National Alumni Association.
As for Gant, she has specific plans for the next five years: Beyond the Salesforce Administrator certification she recently tested for, she wants to get her Advanced Administrator and Platform App Builder Salesforce certifications. And she wants to be a published author.
“I want to publish a book of my poetry, ‘Confessions of a Sunflower: Poems of Liberation,’” Gant said. “Most of my life, I’ve mainly been interested in the arts. Year Up and Elavon sparked something in me I didn’t know I had – now I’m also interested in all things computer.”
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