Grantee Profile: Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO of Year Up
Name of Organization
What’s your origin story?
Over 35 years ago, I was matched through the Big Brothers program with a 10 year old boy named David. I spent every Saturday with David in the housing development that he lived in, in the Lower East side of Manhattan. Spending time with David really opened my eyes to some fundamental truths that David’s opportunities and the opportunities to which he had access to were being limited by his zip code, by the bank balance of his mom, by the color of his skin, and by the school system he attended. It struck me then, in the late ’80s, that this was so wrong. Back then I made a vow to myself that at some point in my life I’d try to close what I was perceiving at that point as this Opportunity Divide that was preventing so many talented, motivated young people from reaching their full potential. I saw that when given a fair chance, with challenging standards and high support, these young adults could accomplish anything. In 2000, I dedicated my life and business expertise to closing the Opportunity Divide, and Year Up was born.
Tell us about your work. What do you do?
Year Up is committed to ensuring equitable access to economic opportunity, education, and justice for all young adults—no matter their background, income, or zip code. Employers face a growing need for talent while millions are left disconnected from the economic mainstream. These inequities only further perpetuate the Opportunity Divide that exists in our country—a divide that Year Up is determined and positioned to close.
What are you most proud of at your organization?
Our students and alumni. We have thousands of success stories all over this country. In 2022 alone, one class of graduates from our program earned $80 million of income in one year. We are helping to create taxpayers, voters, citizens, home owners, community supporters across America and our country is going to be better and stronger as a result.
What’s keeping you up at night?
The traditional view of what it means to go to college is wholly inconsistent with the lived experience of the vast majority of our citizens. The one cost that’s gone up more than health care in the last 20 years in this country is higher education. And for most, feeding your belly takes precedence over feeding your brain. Many of our students have economic responsibilities, could be sibling responsibilities, parent responsibilities, or a variety of others, so making sure that they can take care of those basics properly is a prerequisite to them consuming higher education. For many young adults, financial access is a key barrier that prevents folks from getting the education to get into that livable wage job market. There is a lot we can do to change our behaviors if we accept this belief that talent is distributed evenly, opportunity is not.