Column: Year Up Atlanta graduates its inaugural class

By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 5, 2010

For longtime Atlanta businessman Cecil Conlee, the story of Shannon Wroten says it all. “She was without a house, and saw a sign for Year Up Atlanta,” Conlee said. “She was recruited into the program. And on Monday (Feb. 1), she started a full-time job with the Atlanta Fed. Year Up is about taking someone who is lost and is now on a career path.”

Wroten, along with 15 other students, was in the inaugural graduating class for Year Up Atlanta — a program that began in Boston in 2001 and now is reaching 1,000 students in six cities.

“The mission is to provide low-income young adults with the experience, skills and support that they need to make positive transitions into livable careers and post-secondary education,” said Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, who was in town Jan. 29 for Atlanta’s inaugural graduation.

Chertavian said the inspiration for Year Up came from his experience as a Big Brother (now for 26 years) and witnessing firsthand the waste of human capital in a country as rich as the United States.

While attending Harvard’s Business School, Chertavian designed a business case for what is now Year Up.

The idea is relatively simple. Year Up spends six months training young adults on marketable skills, primarily information technology, and then they work as interns at companies or organizations for six months for about $800 a week.

The first Atlanta class had nine internship partners — Printpack, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia Inc., Genuine Parts Co., Southern Co., Concessions International, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, McKesson, Aaron’s, and SunTrust Banks Inc.

For example, Genuine Parts had two interns in the first class, and now they’ve signed on for three interns in the second group. Six other companies also have signed up for the second class: Equifax Inc., Bank of America, Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc., Emory University Medical Center, New York Life and GE/CompuCom.

“Our plan is that by 2012, we will be serving 160 students twice a year for a total of about 320 students,” said Kweku Forstall, executive director for Year Up Atlanta.

Year Up Atlanta currently has a $4.5 million capital campaign to support the organization through 2011. It has raised $2.1 million, including a $750,000 grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.

Year Up Atlanta already has made inroads among some of the city’s top business leaders, including Conlee, founding partner of CGR Advisors; Doug Ellis, committee chairman of the David, Helen & Marian Woodward Foundation; consultant John McDonald; and Ann Cramer, IBM’s director of corporate community relations and public affairs for North America.

“Our goal for the program nationally is to serve 10,000 young adults a year,” Chertavian said. “We now are at 3,000, and our goal is to be at 10,000 by 2016.”

Chertavian shows no signs of stopping. He said half of all “disconnected” young people in America live in 30 cities with Atlanta in the top five with 23,000 disconnected youth in the metro area.

“We want young adults in those 30 cities to have access to a Year Up program,” Chertavian said. “Our goal is to make sure our young adults are seen as assets.”

Boosting ANDP’s mission

The Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership has named Pam Sessions, founder and co-owner of Hedgewood Properties, as its new chair. Sessions, a longtime civic leader, has served on ANDP’s board for four years. ANDP promotes the creation and preservation of affordable mixed-income communities in metro Atlanta.

Reggie Fenn, a senior vice president of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, has been named vice chair. He is responsible for the community lending activities for the bank’s Southeast region. Before joining the bank, Fenn was the housing development director at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. He also has served on ANDP’s board for four years.

ANDP has elected two new directors to its board. Bill Bolen, a director with Homrich Berg in the firm’s family office practice and investments department, previously served as the chief financial officer of the Terwilliger Family Office and as president of the Atlanta Dream sports franchise.

The second new director is Sarah Kirsch, a senior principal with Robert Charles Lesser & Co., an independent real estate advisory firm.

John O’Callaghan, ANDP’s president and CEO, said the new leaders on his board “will boost our ability to successfully continue our mission-driven work.”

JA Hall of Fame

Junior Achievement of Georgia will induct two legendary business leaders into its Atlanta Business Hall of Fame on March 13 at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead.

René Diaz, president and CEO of Diaz Foods; and Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves and current president of the Washington Nationals baseball team, will join 75 other inductees.

Diaz has led Diaz Foods since 1980, growing it into one of the largest distributors of Hispanic foods in the United States.

Kasten has been one of the most influential sports management leaders in the country. Not only was he president of the Braves, he also ran the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Thrashers. Kasten is the only man in history to have managed three professional sports teams simultaneously.

Leading the army

The Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta has named its first chief operating officer. Jim Lynch, who has been an active advisory board member of the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center for eight years, will manage the day-to-day operations for the organization.

Lynch was previously an executive at both United Parcel Service Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co. In his new role, Lynch’s focus on day-to-day operations should free up Maj. James Seiler, the Salvation Army’s area commander, to focus on strategic opportunities and community development.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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