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First Person

Year Up’s Gerald Chertavian is a turnaround artist

Kids with a rough start can be transformed into skilled workers, according to this nonprofit founder and author of the new book A Year Up.

Photograph by Christopher Huang

Gerald Chertavian’s Boston-based job-training nonprofit has served more than 5,000 young adults nationwide.

I got involved in the Big Brothers program almost 29 years ago. When I was working at Chemical Bank on Wall Street I was matched with a little boy who lived in what was then THE MOST HEAVILY PHOTOGRAPHED CRIME-SCENE NEIGHBORHOOD in New York City. I spent every Saturday with this then 10-year-old. That was really my education, in many respects, into the work I do today.

As a businessperson at a growing company, I knew WE HAD A LOT OF POSITIONS TO FILL. I knew not everyone needed to come through a traditional four-year college. I also knew that there were hundreds of thousands of young people who needed access and opportunity to realize their potential. When starting Year Up in 2000, I was taking two sides of the equation: the supply side of these young adults and the demand side of the employers.

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We’re doing very well in this tough economy. The jobs our young adults are taking pay between $30,000 and $40,000. If you’re COMING OUT OF COLLEGE WITH $40,000 OF DEBT, it’s almost impossible for you to take a job that pays $30,000 a year. Our graduates are filling MIDDLE-SKILL JOBS, jobs that require more than a high school diploma but often less than a four-year degree. Those now represent about 30 percent of all jobs in America.

I’d been thinking about writing a book for a number of years. We fundamentally realize that THE ADVERSITIES OUR YOUNG ADULTS FACE MAKE THEM STRONGER, NOT WEAKER. With the book we want to demonstrate the incredible motivation and resiliency young people bring to the table and how that can be an asset to employers who are looking for great talent.

— As told to Rachel DeahlInterview has been edited and condensed.
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