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Funding Job-prep Nonprofits

Corresponding with piqued interest in career and technical education from corporations, a growing roster of nonprofit organizations have developed training programs over the past few decades. These present prime investment opportunities for donors.

Nonprofits are particularly effective at reaching middle- and low-performing youth and ­convincing them of the benefits of learning while working, thereby pulling into successful lives many ­individuals who otherwise would have languished or drifted into trouble. “Kids from low-income families particularly need these opportunities to earn as they go to school,” says Allison Gerber of the Annie E. Casey ­Foundation, because many lack the family and community supports that help middle-class youths edge their way into careers.

Supporting a strong existing nonprofit program—or launching a new one in your location—could become a key part of your investment portfolio. This chapter offers a handful of instructive models.

Genesys Works and Year Up

Two often-cited workforce development nonprofits for youth are Genesys Works and Year Up.

Genesys Works builds both technical and soft skills that prepare the “quiet middle” of American youth for middle-class jobs. The program has a technical focus that includes training in accounting, drafting, engineering, IT, and cybersecurity. The organization currently operates in Houston, the Twin Cities, Chicago, and the Bay Area, with another site scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

Young people enter the program the summer prior to their senior year in high school. After eight weeks of intensive training, they are given a ­yearlong part-time job with one of many business partners. These are paid positions with significant duties and chances to earn valuable experience.

One of the organization’s chief goals is to ensure that students go on to postsecondary achievement, and 95 percent of their graduates ultimately do. Fully 86 percent of Genesys grads persist in postsecondary training beyond the second year. When they hit the work force, their average starting employment wage is around $41,000.

Year Up was launched in Boston in 2000, with the task of ­helping 18- to 24-year-olds who had earned a high-school diploma or GED but lacked further direction in life or career. High-school guidance counselors, organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the YMCA help identify candidates. It can be a tricky clientele: many are ­Spanish-speaking, have an average high-school GPA of just 1.9, and the typical SAT score is 780. One crucial screen: Participants must be “at-risk but not high-risk”—that is, participants cannot use drugs or have committed violent crimes.

The program can be tough. It requires a detailed application, a writing sample, references, and two interviews. For every 100 young adults who say they are interested, only 25 will complete the ­application ­process, and only ten will be accepted. Participants must sign an agreement that stipulates immediate expulsion for drug use, and a lower stipend for being even one minute late to class. Those accepted receive six months of full-time training. If they make it through that, they begin a six-month internship at a corporate partner.

Year Up emphasizes professional and technical skills. For instance, IT training and work can cover duties like desktop and network computer support, hardware repair, software installation, virus and malware protection, and application support. Participants get staff advising on personal as well as professional issues, and they are assigned a mentor from the business community.

Students receive a $30-a-day stipend for living expenses while they are training (though they lose $25 of that if they are late for class). Once they begin working they get a weekly stipend of roughly $200, paid by the corporate partners, who also help Year Up itself defray roughly $2,000 out of the $11,000 annual cost per student. (The remaining expenses are covered by foundations, companies, and individual supporters.)

Just 18 percent of graduating computer-science majors are female. This nonprofit is trying to change that.

The goal is that once the Year Up training is complete, each participant will be hired by the company where he or she interned. Even when this doesn’t happen, the participant has a new toolbox of skills and a working track record that can be taken to the next career opportunity. He or she also earns between 18 and 30 college credit hours for completing the program.

Four months after graduating, 84 percent of Year Up participants are either working or attending college full time. The average wage of workers is $16 per hour. That’s 30 percent more than was earned by a control group of peers outside the program.

Kim Tanner of the Jenesis Group (a Dallas-based linchpin funder of Genesys Works) notes that organizations like Year Up and Genesys Works are changing corporate perceptions of youth who don’t have a four-year college degree. “These are kids capable of doing great work. They just need opportunities and training,” she says.


FirstNYC was founded in 2006 by the Tiger Foundation and the New York City Workforce Funders Group to connect disengaged, unemployed, out-of-school youth ages 18 to 24 to the business world. Their mechanism is a sectoral emphasis that prepares students and then places them in very specific technical jobs that are undersupplied. JobsFirstNYC does not provide direct training and placements. Rather, it organizes, funds, and incubates partner organizations that do this work, including the Lower East Side Employment Network, Bronx ­Opportunity Network, Restaurant Industry Partnership, and Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project.

Take, for instance, the Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project, which launched in 2013. It collaborates with businesses in industries and occupations that are short on particular kinds of trained workers. These include construction and maintenance jobs, theater technicians, employees for New York’s hospitality industry, and IT workers. The project offers young people the right kind of tightly focused instruction, and then funnels them into partner employers.

JobsFirstNYC has recently been supported by the Achelis and Bodman Foundations, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Heckscher Foundation for Children, the Pinkerton Foundation, and many others. Laurie Dien of the Pinkerton Foundation cites close collaboration with real-world employers as the key to success in the JobsFirst young adult sectoral strategy. “It’s high engagement with an employer—determining what their needs are—and then matching that to training to those needs by a community partner,” she summarizes.

In addition to working hand-in-glove with employers, and then ­building good training that prepares clients for technical jobs, JobsFirstNYC also serves as a type of “think tank” on youth unemployment. It publishes reports and papers. It hosts speakers, and otherwise increases public awareness and understanding of what is necessary to succeed in drawing marginal workers into prosperous employment.

Girls Who Code

In 1984, 38 percent of all computer-science majors were women. Today, just 18 percent of graduating computer-science majors are female. In 2012, Reshma Saujani created a nonprofit aimed at reducing that imbalance, while at the same time reducing the deepening shortage of qualified programmers in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million unfilled computer-specialist jobs at American businesses.

Saujani’s group, Girls Who Code, hopes that wider exposure to computer programming in high school can ignite an interest within young women to pursue the field as a vocation. Girls Who Code thus conducts summer immersion programs and workshops throughout the U.S. The charity’s goal is to instruct 1 million girls in computer programming by the year 2020.

The summer immersion program is designed for sophomores and juniors in high school. Free of charge, the intensive seven-week venture helps participants explore different aspects of computer science. These include website development, mobile-app development, and robotics programming. Among graduates of the summer Girls Who Code immersion program, 90 percent go on to pursue postsecondary education with a focus on computer science.

Entry standards are fairly rigorous: Participants must commit to attending the program every weekday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., for seven weeks, simulating a business schedule. Only two absences are permitted during that period. Girls Who Code also sponsors local clubs aimed at girls in sixth to twelfth grade, and the nonprofit trains community volunteers to teach young women in these settings. Most clubs have 10-30 members. They are asked to meet for 8 hours per month, which allows each club to work through 40 hours of curriculum each year.

Girls Who Code enjoys the support of many corporate sponsors, including the Adobe Foundation, Microsoft, GE, the Verizon Wireless Foundation, Twitter, and Capital One. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has also been an important supporter. In 2014 the organization received a $1 million grant from AT&T. In addition, 20 large companies have offered paid internships and other opportunities to graduates of Girls Who Code. These include major corporations like Goldman Sachs and Microsoft.

Woodlawn Cemetery Preservation Training Program

Historic Woodlawn Cemetery, located in the upper Bronx, covers more than 400 acres. It includes 1,300 mausoleums and 150,000 monuments. Among these are the graves of such notables as Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, and J. C. Penney.

Since the summer of 2015, an unusual sight has caught the attention of some of Woodlawn’s many visitors—youths in bright orange shirts, dutifully restoring and preserving dozens of monuments and headstones. Twelve young adults were enrolled in a new Woodlawn Cemetery ­Preservation Training Program. This nine-week internship has the dual purpose of helping to preserve and restore the cemetery while offering disadvantaged youths hands-on training in the craft of stonemasonry.

“Historic cemeteries are in a losing battle of maintaining today’s overwhelming number of monuments, amid limited interest in care from descendants,” says Woodlawn’s historian, Susan Olsen. “Using our historic cemetery as a training site, or ‘outdoor lab,’ is a way to address the issue.”

Woodlawn hired a trainer and recruited at-risk youths aged 18 to 24 from local high schools and social-service agencies. Of 30 initial applicants, 12 were admitted to the pilot program. For two months, these interns received a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on activity in the cemetery. They were paid $10 per hour, for a 30-hour workweek, throughout their internship,

The workers-in-training labored alongside resident stone craftsman Robert Cappiello and learned the skills of the trade. They started with measuring and photographing stones, cleaning monuments, sculptures, and mausoleums, and resetting gravestones. “I taught the basic safety skills, terminologies, stone types, and hand skills needed to be in this trade,” notes Cappiello. The ninth week of the program culminated in a visit to the training center of the International Masonry Institute in Long Island City, where the interns completed OSHA training and took certification tests.

With a keystone grant from the Heckscher Foundation for Children, interns also benefited from weekly life-skills classes run by Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, a Bronx-based nonprofit profiled later in this chapter. “We wanted to be as creative as we could in addressing all the life issues these young people are facing,” says Frank Sanchis of the World Monuments Fund—a preservation nonprofit that hopes to make the Woodlawn pilot a model for other programs across the country.

Although the program is young, its results are promising. In the first cohort, 11 of the 12 students completed the nine weeks of training; eight of those interns are now employed directly in the masonry trade, including three who continued at Woodlawn Cemetery in a deeper 19-month paid apprenticeship program. “These young people are now working in jobs at good salaries—most are making $45,000 a year with benefits,” says Sanchis.

The biggest obstacle to replication of this program may be the high cost per youth served. John Krieger of the Achelis and Bodman ­Foundations, which offered the Woodlawn program a $30,000 grant, was willing to provide seed capital because of the coalition of partners. “The fact that so many high-quality organizations were willing to participate gave us confidence.” A second cohort of preservation interns is expected at Woodlawn in the summer of 2016, and Sanchis is now searching for suitable cemeteries in other parts of the U.S. where a similar program could be launched.

Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow

In the early 1980s, a community board in the Sunset Park area of ­Brooklyn asked Sister Mary Franciscus, a Catholic-school principal, to form an organization to address the high number of student dropouts in the neighborhood. Sister Franciscus founded Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow in 1983, and today the organization continues to follow her model for job training and life transformation: twenty weeks of intensive instruction in business skills, high-school equivalency degree instruction, job placement services, and ongoing post-employment follow up.

OBT zeroes in on high-risk kids without a high-school diploma. Like Genesys Works and Year Up, it is demanding, with a training atmosphere meant to reflect the realities of a corporate office. Students must clock in each day, dress professionally, and complete assignments on schedule. The training includes business math, business English, office procedures, computer classes, public speaking and communications, and a world-of-work module.

“A lot of our emphasis is experiential,” notes CEO Randy Peers. “School didn’t work for these young adults, so we don’t structure things as if it were school. Everything is made to seem like a corporate office. We have a dress code, code of conduct, make assignments, and have performance evaluations.”

The nonprofit offers several specific credentialing and career-training pathways. A fairly new one is designed to feed New York City’s growing IT infrastructure—an intensive 10-week-long website design and coding session. Before they enroll students must graduate from high school or earn a GED. Instruction in HTML, JavaScript, and Adobe Photoshop is part of the curriculum. All students build their own websites, and contribute to design websites for local community organizations and businesses.

A second technical pathway preps students to become medical administrative assistants via certification from the National Health Career Association. Trainees must again first graduate from high school. Then they are taught medical basics, medical terminology, and instructed in communications, customer service, and basic bookkeeping. Trainees get an internship in a medical business.

Through other tracks, students can also obtain a Microsoft Office certification and a National Retail Federation customer service certification. New entrants take an aptitude test to see which credentialing path they would most logically fit into. The program also offers opportunities from direct entry into employment.

OBT has successfully ushered many disconnected young people into meaningful work. It has a strong reputation among financial-services employers in New York City. Many graduates begin working in retail banks or corporate mailroom operations at firms such as Morgan Stanley, Moody’s, Greenberg Traurig, or Random House. Other graduates pursue postsecondary training, often as the first members of their family to do so.

School didn’t work for these young adults, so we don’t structure things as if it were school. Everything is made to seem like a corporate office.

In 2010, OBT identified southeastern Queens as a prime location for expansion, due to a high population of troubled youth. OBT was on the cusp of launching a fundraising campaign for the expansion when the area YMCA approached them with a proposal. It had a similar vision for reaching people in the region, and already had the buildings and infrastructure in the area that OBT would require. So the two nonprofits ended up partnering together to create the Y Roads Center.

OBT conducts its training within a building where the YMCA provides other wraparound services—everything from mental-health counseling to basic YMCA recreation classes. The startup thus cost $800,000, versus an estimated $2 million if OBT had launched the new center on its own. The partnership has been so successful that OBT and the YMCA opened a second site in 2012 in the Jamaica-area of Queens and a third in the Bronx in 2014. “It’s been a cost-effective way for us to expand, since the Y handles the infrastructure cost,” says Peers.

In another collaboration, OBT began expanding its computer-programming track in 2015 by linking arms with Industry City, a private real-estate development that is renovating old industrial buildings in the original neighborhood where OBT started, then leasing them to tech firms and other tenants. OBT is in the process of building an innovation lab in the complex where it can offer technical training to students who then will have opportunities to slide into jobs at the for-profit tech firms moving into Industry City. Students who want to continue beyond the level of tech training OBT offers will be handed off by the nonprofit to the New York City College of Technology.

“Our aim is that these kids get classroom training and do an internship with one of the firms on site,” according to Peers. “We want to expose them to opportunities they haven’t considered before. We do that in big ways and in little ways—but over the 20 weeks, it has an impact.”

The Robin Hood Foundation has been the biggest individual charitable funder of Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow. Crucial support has also come from the Tiger Foundation and the Achelis and Bodman Foundations. Mark Foggin is a management consultant and individual OBT donor who grew up in a blue-collar household and understands the importance and potential of work-based pathways to learning. He describes the organization’s model for leading young New Yorkers to improve their talents and move themselves out of poverty as inspiring.

Hope Builders

Jumping across the U.S. to California, Hope Builders (formerly known as Taller San Jose) exemplifies a nonprofit that has long focused on getting difficult populations into entry-level work, but also grasped the importance of upskilling as a way of keeping workers progressing up the economic ladder. CEO Shawna Smith says the Great Recession taught her organization the importance of middle-credential jobs. Now her team emphasizes job placement for entry-level work, but also credentialing and postsecondary learning that is important to job advancement.

Hope Builders is working in a challenging arena—the troubled youth of Orange County, California. It operates a 28-month program that offers the young people most at risk in its community a proven route to job success. There is a mix of coaching, skill building, job placement, assistance with job retention, and continuing education. In its training academies Hope Builders focuses on instruction in construction, health care, and business skills. Participants also receive personal counseling and instruction.

When its participants are ready to reach for middle-skill jobs, Hope Builders partners with local institutions like Santa Ana ­College, medical ­trainers, and Tierra Institute International. These offer college credits or occupational credentials in practical areas like office management, blood-drawing, and solar-panel installation.

Fully 57 percent of Hope Builders graduates go on to attain a ­postsecondary certificate, degree, or apprenticeship. The group keeps in touch with participants for two years after they complete the program in order to improve rates of job retention and advancement. It is an explicit goal of the effort that students eventually continue their education through a postsecondary certificate, a six-month apprenticeship, or at least 12 units of college coursework.

“We’re now looking at some additional industries where we might develop other training,” says Smith. “One is in advanced skills manufacturing. Another is dental assisting.”

Project L.I.F.T.

For a licensed clinical psychologist, Bob Zaccheo keeps an unusual home office, filled with bicycles, appliances, boats, a textile-printing machine, and even a classic Ford Model T automobile. These artifacts all connect to physical labor, require tinkering and repair, and appeal to the hunger of many young men to work with their hands on tangible products. Having them as unorthodox tools has helped Zaccheo meet with much greater success as a social worker than he ever could have from a counselor’s chair.

From Stuart, Florida, Zaccheo runs a nonprofit called Project L.I.F.T. It was born out of his frustration with the obstacles to success in a traditional social-work clinic. As a therapist, Zaccheo discovered firsthand that young men in particular were reluctant to open up about struggles with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and anxiety. So he traded in his desk and dress shirts and ties for a pair of work boots, rented a nearby garage, and spent time working with his patients repairing vehicles. This hands-on experience built trust while yielding learning, and mixed with more conventional individual and group therapy it proved able to produce real life change.

“What I quickly realized was that I could get information really fast under the hood of a car that I couldn’t get sitting in a clinical office,” Zaccheo says.

Project L.I.F.T. officially launched in 2010 with the mission of using vocational trades—car, boat, bicycle, and appliance restoration and repair—to give young men practical job skills, and ween them off addictive substances. In the early days, Zaccheo helped 19 kids through the program while continuing his day job as a therapist for the state of Florida. Eventually he began devoting his full attention to the nonprofit.

Project L.I.F.T. has since blossomed. It recently opened a new 8,000-square-foot facility offering 11 different vocational tracts. It employs three full-time therapists, seven vocational instructors, and 13 volunteers. Trades in which students are instructed include boat building, auto repair, carpentry, pipefitting, welding, printing, and bike repair.

Indian River State College approached Zaccheo about using Project L.I.F.T. as a feeder program to its ­occupational-certification courses. “That partnership has been really nice,” he reports. “It’s developed to the point where the college wants to bring its instructors down to our shop and provide on-site training for certifications.

The project uses vocational trades—car, boat, bicycle, and appliance repair—to give young men practical job skills and ween them off addictive substances.

One thing that makes Project L.I.F.T. unusual is the virtuous cycle of charity it creates. Individuals from the community donate their goods to the nonprofit. Zaccheo and his team of recovering youths repair and restore them. Then the goods are either sold (with the profits funneled back into the organization) or donated to needy individuals. Some restored bikes, for instance, are donated to local homeless men and women. Project L.I.F.T. recently gave a repaired car for a single mom.

The program targets teenage males between the ages of 13 and 19, most with a criminal past, often drug-related. “These are the kids that are using two to three drugs at a time—alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, synthetic opiates, even heroin,” reports Zaccheo. In addition to vocational training they get comprehensive mental-health therapy, including substance abuse counseling and group and individual treatment. To create tighter-knit relationships, the team participates in a family-style meal every night. For the young men it enrolls, the transition from addict to worker to giver can be monumental. “It changes the whole cast of their mind,” says Zaccheo.

The program maintains a sobriety success rate of 79-84 percent. The graduation rate is the same, because being sober is a condition of ­graduating. Three quarters of participants stay out of the criminal-justice system after graduating.

Project L.I.F.T. plans to start serving young women in the future. Zaccheo is also evaluating expansion beyond at-risk youth, to a more general population. “If we can teach these guys to become successful, taxpaying citizens in our community, then maybe we could teach anybody to do that,” he suggests.

The Hobe Sound Community Chest is one satisfied supporter of the nonprofit. A conglomeration of 500 private donors who raise $1.5 million annually to support 40 humanitarian agencies in the area, the Community Chest makes an annual $25,000 grant to ­Project L.I.F.T. “When Bob talks with you about the organization’s mission, he sounds almost like a venture entrepreneur,” explains HSCC board member Joe Frelinghuysen. “But it’s not about making money, it’s about saving lives. He’s passionate about the mission.”

HSCC donors also volunteered to help Zaccheo and his team relocate to their new shop. Frelinghuysen and others have donated used cars. It pleased Frelinghuysen to watch kids fix up his donation and sell it for $5,000, then apply those funds to the new building expansion. “My goal through charitable giving has been to do something with real impact,” he notes. “Not just writing a check, but making an impact. Here, I can.”

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