July 27, 2021

The Boss: Gerald Chertavian of Year Up, on the Power of Mentoring

Starting at around age 13, I had a series of weekend and summer jobs — everything from scooping ice cream, making doughnuts and pumping gas to working at the local golf course, where I had to line up carts for the players by 5 a.m.

One of my high school teachers recruited my older brother, then me, to attend his alma mater, Bowdoin College, in Maine. I volunteered for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and was matched with a local student. The experience opened my eyes to the joys of mentoring.

After I graduated with an economics degree in 1987, I moved to New York as a trainee at Chemical Bank. I signed up again as a Big Brother, and was matched with David Heredia, a 10-year-old Dominican who lived with his mother and brothers on the Lower East Side.

I spent every Saturday with David, who had a gift for drawing, and I saw how hard it was for him to realize his dreams without outside support. That experience planted the idea that I wanted to create a program to equip talented and motivated youth with support, training and job opportunities. I remain close to this day with David, who now has a career in animation.

I decided to get an M.B.A., and in my application to Harvard Business School, I outlined my vision for a youth program. That same year, I met my future wife, Kate, who is English, at a party.

We married in October 1992, after I graduated, and we moved to London. My first job was with an affinity credit card company. Then, a year later, I was a co-founder of a technology and software company, Conduit Communications. In 1999, we sold the company, and the next year, we moved to the United States with our two children — a third was born in 2003 — so I could pursue my idea of helping low-income, at-risk youth.

In 2000, we started Year Up in Boston. It’s been a family project. Kate, who has returned to her profession as an art dealer, volunteered in the office in the early years, and she continues to mentor students. Many nights, we have young adults around our dinner table.

By July 2001, we had enrolled 22 young people for our yearlong program, which includes six months of training and six months in an internship. Our students, who are from 18 to 24 years old, learn middle-skill jobs like desktop and help-desk support.

With companies like Bain Company and Fidelity as partners, the first internships began in January 2002. Later that year, our program received its first big grant, $1 million, and in May 2005, we expanded to Providence, R.I. The next year, we opened an office in the Washington area, then in New York and, over time, seven more cities.

Despite our expansion, we have had our ups and downs. When the financial crisis hit, Wall Street firms were among our largest clients, so we had to scramble to help our interns find new jobs.

And sometimes our students “fire themselves.” They sign a contract with us and expect consequences if they don’t fulfill their end of the deal. We help them work on their confidence, voice and identity, but we are not in the business of accepting excuses. They are capable of owning their futures. We provide them a year to move up in their lives, and so far, about 5,000 have taken advantage of it.

For me, this is a matter of social justice. I believe that young adults deserve opportunity — and that the country needs to better utilize its human capital. This has been my dream for decades, and I feel lucky to be able to help it come true. 

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f252057803fc04dbd4d8577274344c7e

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