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Nonprofit that teaches technology skills to get $4.5 million

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009

Venture Philanthropy Partners on Monday will announce a $4.5 million grant to the local chapter of a national nonprofit group that prepares young people for technology careers, according to its president.

Year Up, which opened its program in Rosslyn in 2006 with 22 students and works with 144 this year, will use the four-year grant toward its goal of doubling in size by 2013.

With an estimated 33,000 young people in the region who have finished high school but are not in college or employed, there's an urgent need for the effort, said Carol Thompson Cole, Venture Philanthropy's president and chief executive officer. She said Venture Philanthropy was impressed by Year Up's innovative approach.

The award launches the second $37 million round of grants funded by investors including Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia at a time when many foundations are scaling back. VPP is a philanthropic organization that uses the principles of venture capital investment to help children from low-income families in the region by supporting strong nonprofits.

Year Up has two components. In the first six months, participants 18 to 24 years old receive college credits as they learn information technology skills through a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College.

The program provides support but also teaches professional expectations: If they are even a minute late, they lose $25 of their $40-a-day stipend.

During the second half of the year, each participant has an internship at one of the region's large corporations. That means the business partners, many of them federal contractors that have trouble retaining entry-level information technology workers, can expect professional experience as well as skills, said Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, executive director of Year Up National Capital Region.

Manicia Standard graduated from high school in Prince George's County in 2004, but after a year in college and some low-skills jobs in health care, she felt stuck. She said Year Up taught her the fundamentals of the corporate world and also improved her writing skills and attitude. Now an intern at AOL, which she loves, she's planning to attend college.

"I want to merge the medical and technology to incorporate all the skills I have," she said.

Within four months of finishing the program, nearly 90 percent of the participants are being paid salaries averaging close to $40,000, Boyea-Robinson said.

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