Year Up is aimed at "the middle of the bell curve," not overachievers who already have high odds of success, nor those with little chance of making it.

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One winter ago, Liliana Tapia had a young son, a closetful of unfulfilled dreams and not enough hours of work in a job at a local restaurant. A 2012 high-school graduate, she was living with her boyfriend and searching for opportunities when she came across an online listing for something called Year Up.

If she made the cut, the program offered six months of training, classes and college credits followed by a six-month internship at a local company, then a chance — a chance — of getting hired.

“I had to prioritize,” Tapia says. “Either stay with Year Up and be something, or stay with the hostess job and be nothing. I decided I had nothing to lose.”

The Year Up program started in Boston and has spread to a handful of other cities, including Seattle. In Atlanta, Year Up runs two programs a year, each with about 85 students.

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Tapia started in March, in Year Up’s downtown Atlanta classrooms. In late summer, she was placed in a Gas South call center.

“Business is like a language, a new language for me,” she says. “I see the call center as a steppingstone. This is a learning phase. I am not going to do this forever.” Beyond the internship is a different trajectory than the one she had been on. She sees herself in a company, rising.

Not for students
There are many internship programs, some run by not-for-profit groups, some by individual companies. Some pay, some do not. Most often they are aimed at students.

Year Up, which pays participants a $175 weekly stipend, does not target students. Instead, the group is aimed at young people with little education and limited resources, but no lack of motivation. The idea is to offer what may be their first shot at a career when the odds are stacked against them.

The unemployment rate for job seekers between 16 and 19 years old is 22.2 percent, roughly three times the overall rate. For job seekers between 16 and 24, the most recently reported rate is 16.3 percent, and it’s twice that high for African-Americans.

But not just anyone can get a leg up from Year Up. Belinda Stubblefield, executive director, says that Year Up is aimed at “the middle of the bell curve,” not overachievers who already have high odds of success, nor those with little chance of making it.

“You have to know if they have the driving motivation. We offer this to people who want to take advantage of the opportunity,” she says.

Real-world lessons
Year Up provides an introduction to business communications, Stubblefield says. “How to dress, how to respond to people — shaking hands, looking them in the eye. Just preparing them for what the real world will look for.”

Interns who do well have a shot at being hired, says Meredith Hodges, Gas South vice president. New employees at the Gas South call center receive at least $13.85 an hour, she says.

From the perspective of the company, internships are a sort of an extended, in-depth interview, Hodges says. A few months watching a potential employee lets a company avoid hiring mistakes, she says: If an employee doesn’t have the needed skills or temperament, it can be costly — as well as awkward.

About a quarter of those who sign up do not get through the program, Stubblefield says.

Of those who do get through the training and internship, 85 percent are hired for full-time jobs within four months of graduation or are in college, Stubblefield says.

To learn more about Year Up, visit the program’s national website, or the program’s Seattle page.