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  1. Pinellas

St. Petersburg College joins Year Up Tampa Bay to help young people rise

St. Petersburg College's Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Midtown Center. [Times (2015)]
Published Mar. 21

ST. PETERSBURG — There's a lot going on inside my head.

But you know this.

One of the quirkier aspects of my mind is an internal juke box, adorned with neon lights and stocked with more records than I can count.

It plays early, often and many times, uncontrollably. Friends believe me rude when I start humming in the middle of a conversation. It happened again at Hawkers the other night. As staff from Year Up Tampa Bay, an upstart program that propels young adults into life-altering opportunities, shared the nonprofit's mission, the internal juke box cued up Andra Day's inspiring voice.

You're broken down and tired

Of living life on a merry go round

And you can't find the fighter

But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out

And move mountains

Then, only my body remains at the table. My mind conjures up a video as Day continues to sing. I see a young woman, living in a cramped home with seven siblings, longing to turn her high school diploma into a high-climbing job. But she possesses only dreams, not the knowledge to make them come true.

She's working at a fast food restaurant. She's broken down. She's tired.

But Year Up can help her rise up. It envelopes its cohorts, usually a group of 50 students, ages 18-24, with the soft skills training and academic rigor to light a path to a greater life. Year Up Tampa Bay launched its first cohort this month in a partnership with St. Petersburg College.

Now in more than 20 cities, the program seeks to narrow what it calls the opportunity divide. More than 5 million young adults are disconnected from career paths, while an estimated 12 million jobs requiring post-secondary education will go unfulfilled — unless companies can find a bigger pool of viable candidates.

Year Up creates its cohort from a pool of marginalized applicants who have a high school diploma or GED and an interest in business or IT. They can do so at www.yearup.org/apply.

The Year Up approach, which naturally consists of 12 months, focuses on students' professional and personal development to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency. For the first six months of the program, students develop technical and professional skills in the classroom.

Students take coursework eligible for college credit, earn an educational stipend, and are supported by staff advisors, professional mentors, dedicated social services staff, and a powerful network of community-based partners. Yet it's also demanding. The young men and women are held to high standards, taught business etiquette and in many instances, provided professional attire that's donated by supporters.

Now I see the same girl, but she's turned in her polyester fast food uniform for business attire given to her by Year Up. Her outfit is used, gently worn, but she shines like it's new.

And Day keeps singing.

And I'll rise up

I'll rise like the day

I'll rise up

I'll rise unafraid

I'll rise up

And I'll do it a thousand times again

This is only the beginning. In the second six months, students apply their newly-acquired skills in an internship at one of Year Up's corporate partners, which includes JP Morgan, Bank of America, New York Life, Nielsen, Raymond James.

The internships provide the tangible experience they need to gain a foot up in the business or IT world. Year Up officials say 90 percent of its graduates find employment or pursue postsecondary education within four months of completing the program.

Yet the businesses also benefit. This is a win-win. When I hear Day sing Rise Up, I see the vision of the young lady, but I also see the vision of a society thriving because it's collaborating to solve a critical issue.

I hope Year Up does it a thousand times again.

That's all I'm saying.

If You Go

Year Up Tampa Bay will hold an open house and ribbon cutting from 9-11 a.m. on April 30 at St. Petersburg College Midtown, 1300 22nd Ave. S. To learn more about the program, call recruitment manager La'Kesha O'Neal at (813) 597-7728. To donate gently used business attire for men and women, call Labreia Cherry at (813) 599-3279.

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