Year Up prepares urban young adults for successful careers

year up volunteer and career planning nonprofit in Chicago

Orion Casey

by Phoebe C. Williams, LCSW, Outreach, Admissions, and Student Services Director, Year Up

Two years ago Orion Casey was making minimum wage as a teacher’s assistant at a childcare facility. Today she works as an IT professional at M. Block and Sons, a corporation that offers her a full time salaried position with benefits. As a young mother of two, this shift has been life-changing, and it began when she joined a program called Year Up.

Year Up is a free, intensive, one-year program focused on preparing urban young adults for corporate careers in Information Technology. The first six months of the program are spent taking courses that focus on technical and professional skill building. Through these courses, students have the ability to earn up to 18 college credits from Harold Washington College. The second six months of the program are spent applying the learned skills at corporate internships, such as Google, J. P. Morgan Chase, and Bank of America. Students in the program are also offered a wealth of supports including professional mentors, advisors, social service support and even a stipend of up to $900.00 per month.

While Year Up is still new on the Chicago landscape (opening its doors to students in September of 2010), the organization has built a strong representation nationally, as it currently serves 8 major cities across the country. This growth has been enabled by fantastic outcomes in each of its sites. An example of those outcomes is that within four months of graduating from Year Up, 84% of its graduates continue onto full time education or careers with an average starting salary of $30,000 annually.

Orion, who was offered her position on her graduation day, is one of the many examples of students from the Year Up Chicago site whose lives have changed with their decision to apply to Year Up.

“I received way more than just training for a job,” Orion said, reflecting on her experience in the program. “Year Up really worked on everything from work ethics to social skills. By the time you’re finished they’ll definitely have you well equipped for your journey to success”.

Year Up serves 18-24 year olds with a high school diploma or a GED certificate and is accepting applications now for its next group of students. There are also many opportunities for volunteers to get involved. For more information about Year Up, or to download a student application, visit or call (312) 726-5300.


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