Graduation at Urban Alliance

By Thomas Heath

A group of Washington area businesses that takes about 150 D.C. public high school students each year and helps prepare them for the professional world held a commencement ceremony Thursday morning at George Washington University.

The group is known as the Urban Alliance and has 80 Washington area companies, including Bernstein Cos., Atlantic Media, CapitalSource, Clark Construction, XM Radio and The Washington Post Co. Each business pays $9,500 a year per student. Some goes to training workshops on the business world, and the rest goes to paying the students for their work. They work at the companies 15 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during the summer.

More than 1,000 students have been involved in the program since it started 12 years ago. It has a 99 percent on-time high school graduation rate. The vast majority go on to college.

"We are trying to introduce these students to the professional world," said Nick Kilavos, director of corporate finance at CapitalSource, which has mentored four students in four years. "We are hoping to establish them with a skill set."

John Gass, 18, who just graduated from H.D. Woodson High School and interned at CapitalSource, said, "The most important thing I learned was interacting in a business environment." Gass will attend the University of Missouri, where he plans to study journalism.

Laurie Smith, a librarian at Bethesda-based United BioSource, assists interns with their college applications and helps them get comfortable using computers.

Walter Woods, right, talks with Veronica Nolan, executive director of the Urban Alliance. Mary Zients is in the background.

Walter Woods, a program officer at the World Bank, helped mentor 33 interns this year, including a Cameroon native who is creating a documentary on the effect on African economies of money sent back home by workers in the United States.

The Urban Alliance was co-founded by Jeffrey and Mary Zients and Andrew Plepler, president of the Bank of America Foundation.

"It's always been amazing to me how little time and money it actually takes to change the course of a young person's life," Urban Alliance chair Mary Zients said.

Jeffrey Zients directed the initial public offering of the Corporate Executive Board and the Advisory Board. He now runs an investment fund called PortfolioLogic.

For every program dollar the students save up to $1,000, the Urban Alliance puts aside $3 to help defray college expenses. The student's savings plus the match can total $4,000.

By Terri Rupar  |  July 24, 2008; 5:01 PM ET  | Category:  Philantrophy
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Great article tom. Job training programs are so badly needed in this town. Urban Alliance sounds like an incredible program that's truly changing the lives of these kids. I wish I had the opportunity to get life skills training, a job at places like the World Bank, and up to $3000 in free money. Sign Me Up!!!

Posted by: Big Fan | July 25, 2008 10:50 AM

Urban Alliance definitely saved my future. It helped me prepare for college as well as deal with all the ups and downs of the true work world. Throughout my career I know I can always count on UA for great career and educational advice. Awesome Article and thanks for everything UA!!!

Posted by: Damisha Crawford | July 25, 2008 10:57 AM

I've been a mentor with Urban Alliance for 2 years and it is a fantastic program. My interns have been motivated students who are willing to learn - they just need to be given a chance. Urban Alliance provides them with the chance to work in a professional environment, and also the support they need financially and personally to wade through the college application process. If only more employers would be willing to take on interns, it has turned the lives of so many DC kids around!

Posted by: A Mentor | July 25, 2008 11:45 AM

Urban Alliance is a fantastic program. My company's UA intern is phenomenal. It's been amazing to see her grow and learn so much, most of which has come from the support she has gotten from the UA Program Coordinators. They are so great with the kids. They're always there to help them out and really seem to care.

Posted by: UA Supporter | July 25, 2008 1:30 PM

Urban Alliance is an amazing program, and I'm so glad to see it getting at least some of the recognition it deserves. The kids are tremendously smart and motivated, and UA gives them incredible opportunities. I hope more businesses will be inspired to participate, and more individuals will think about donating or supporting UA in other ways.

Posted by: Alyssa Rosenberg | July 25, 2008 2:37 PM

I have been associated with Urban Alliance for four months and everyday I am inspired by the gains made by the students, the dedication of the staff, and the commitment of the unpaid mentors who work one-on-one with the students daily. In a city were the plight of inner city schools is regularly on the front page, it is remarkable to find students from schools that are being 'reorganized' working in places like the World Bank, Morgan Stanley, CapitalSource, United Biosource, Clark Construction, Newscorp. I am grateful that corporations are willing to step up to the plate, be mentors to youth, and be responsible members of their community.

Posted by: Andrew Moore | July 25, 2008 3:01 PM

An excellent program indeed!
Our Urban Alliance intern has been a great value add to the Portfolio Logic team and her positive attitude and professional demeanor makes her an effective and great colleague to work with. I highly recommend other businesses partner with the program.

Posted by: Jean-Baptiste | July 25, 2008 3:53 PM

The UA team is one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable, and resourceful group of professionals around. The interns are top-notch, go-getters. Every local business should find a way to participate in this program.

Posted by: Jennifer | July 25, 2008 8:28 PM

I am proud to be a part of Urban Alliance because it has such a positive impact on the youth it serves. A 99% on-time high school graduation rate speaks to the fact that UA plays an important role not only in the professional development of its students but also in their academic success.

Posted by: KMW | July 28, 2008 2:55 PM

I think that Urban Alliance is an amazing organization that sheds light on opportunity. How wonderful that the folks at UA have the courage to be optimists in a pessimistic world!

Posted by: Susan | July 28, 2008 4:16 PM

Thanks for a great article! Urban Alliance provides incredible opportunities for these deserving youth.

Posted by: RN | July 29, 2008 11:00 AM

I have been at UA for a short period of time and am already amazed by the students, their dedication, and the their professional growth. This program is making the difference in the lives of its interns and this is due to the dedicated staff, the fantastic mentors at the job sites and the support of so many companies and individuals throughout the district.

Posted by: Deanne | July 29, 2008 11:02 AM

Urban Alliance is doing some pretty amazing work with D.C. area young people! I look forward to reading more articles about this amazing organization.


Posted by: UA Fan | July 29, 2008 11:19 AM

Thanks for the article on Urban Alliance! This is an amazing program that provides highly motivated students with opportunities that might not otherwise be available to them. The Urban Alliance interns clearly learn a lot from this professional experience and gain a sense of confidence and pride that will help them succeed in the future.

I would love to see more articles about Urban Alliance!

Posted by: MW | July 29, 2008 11:20 AM

I've been an avid supporter of UA. What it does for these kids is unbelievable.

Posted by: AE | July 29, 2008 11:21 AM

This is a front page story! This is truly an amazing organization. So many times in our society we overlook those people and organizations who really make a difference. It is extremely evident from last Thursday's event, that this organization is really improving these students lives. Keep up the good work!!!!

Posted by: JWarren | July 29, 2008 11:23 AM

Why don't programs like this get a) more funding and b) more media attention?

Seriously, in a city where college attendence rates are as low as D.C., grads need all the help they can get!

Way to go, UA!

Posted by: VB | July 29, 2008 11:30 AM

What a great program!! This is a great organization and one that I can totally stand behind. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: NV | July 29, 2008 11:40 AM

Now here is a great program that needs more media attention. What great work the people at Urban Alliance are doing for our younger generation. Lets get the word out and support our community and students. Way to go, UA!!!

Posted by: MM | July 29, 2008 11:43 AM

Urban Alliance is an excellent program, and I'm so glad to see it getting some well deserved recognition. UA offers great opportunities to kids that may not otherwise exist. I hope this article brings more awareness of the program to the community and encourages more businesses to participate by either donating or offering internships.

Posted by: Kristine | July 29, 2008 11:49 AM

Bravo for a wonderful article about a noteworthy organization! As a former DCPS teacher, I recognize and appreciate the positive impact that Urban Alliance has on DC students. Few organizations give DCPS students the opportunities, support, and resources they need to be successful beyond the classroom; Urban Alliance offers all of these components, plus the lasting commitment to achieve positive results. I look forward to reading future articles about the accomplishments of Urban Alliance and its students!

Posted by: EABrown | July 29, 2008 11:53 AM

Does Urban Alliance get any direct support from the city?

Posted by: topshelf_22304 | July 29, 2008 11:53 AM

What a phenomenal program and tremendous accomplishments to boot - a 99% graduation rate! That's quite a return on a small investment. I'd love to read more about how UA works. What about a series of articles which follow a year in the life of the students?

Posted by: HRM | July 29, 2008 12:04 PM

WOW! I'm impressed. Not only at the initiative to get our high school kids the support and interest of some top business officials who offer unparalleled training, but to add on the savings/college scholarship incentive is genius! What a valuable bundle of lessons learned all together through one great program! Keep it up...and keep us posted on new developments!

Posted by: Megan Dunn | July 29, 2008 12:12 PM

This is a good program. Urban Alliance, or some other program like it, should be implemented in other large urban areas. I look forward to hearing more progress from this organization.

Posted by: Bill | July 29, 2008 12:33 PM

What a great article! I wish more of these programs existed in DC. This is the type of program that really benefits youth.

Posted by: ALT | July 29, 2008 12:50 PM

What a wonderful program and a dedicated staff that make all the difference in the world! We appreciate all you do and think you should get more support and media attention. Too bad there aren't more people like you in this world!

Posted by: stella | July 29, 2008 2:04 PM

UA has been a great experience! It has given us, (the interns) most if not all the credentials we need to survive in the corporate world. We have learned professional skills as well as social skill. we have had college prep workshops and more. These arent just any jobs either, they are upscale, prestigous, professional jobs that we as staudents acquire skills from. I thank UA staff, mentors and the sponsers of this program for investing in the youth, our future and our goals. I encourage all upcoming 12th graders in the District of Columbia to take this once in a lifetime oppurtunity.

Posted by: Mikia Ross DCPS Graduate of Dunbar S.H.S 2008 | July 29, 2008 2:13 PM

I encourage all upcoming DCPS seniors to join this organization because its a great way to learn about different career opportunities. There is so much to learn and the exposure to a professional work place is awesome. I also challenge employers to participate in this program because the interns are not only hardworking and dedicated their amazing!!!

Posted by: Nashae R | July 29, 2008 2:39 PM

This program does great things for the community, I highly support everything it stands for!

Posted by: AK Girl | July 29, 2008 4:41 PM

Negative stories get the headlines, but organizations like Urban Alliance move in a positive direction. What they do makes a difference. Can there be examples of success stories?

Posted by: Steve | July 29, 2008 5:39 PM

I want to hear more about the students in this program (current and alumni) and how it has affected their lives!

Posted by: ACZ | July 29, 2008 5:56 PM

Urban Alliance is a great program for youth all over. The program help me through alot of situations such as filling out college applications, getting scholarships, work enviorment, and how to handle things in a proffesional way. I love Urban Alliance and I am glad I had the opportunity to be with their program. I want to give thanks to all the program coordinators especially kristina and tamika.

Posted by: Tiffany | July 29, 2008 7:45 PM

Nothing teaches the "real world" better than the real world itself. Putting kids in the business world during high school will encourage them to get a higher education. A higher education, a higher thinking perspective, higher goals, more responsibility, and in the end a better community. Plus, coming from an organization that "gave a little" will "get a little" when that person grows up and will continue to give back.

Posted by: Ali | July 29, 2008 10:10 PM

What a fantastic article! Good for Washington Post for reporting on such a positive organization. It's these organizations that are going to change the world, starting with one child at a time. It's so nice to read about the good things going on in this world! Please keep us readers updated with what happens next with Urban Alliance! Can't wait to look at the Post for another positive article about them!

Posted by: Julie Stratis | July 30, 2008 1:35 AM

I'm delighted to see a feature on Urban Alliance. I've had the opportunity to experience what this program can do and I am impressed by the level of maturity and professionalism of the students, as well as the mentors' dedication to their students and to the overall success of the program. It's clear from the comments posted so far that this program deserves all of the attention and support that it can get and I encourage more people to go out and support UA in any way they can!

Posted by: AW | July 30, 2008 7:44 AM

Urban Alliance is an awesome program. I just wished that more people knew about it and how it really can prepare young students for the professional world. When i first entered the program i was only expecting a job so that i could have a half day schedule as a senior, but what i later realized was that it was much more than a job but more of the push that i needed to prepare myself for future achievement! This program is very benficial and i am so ecstatic that i decided to participate because in the end it taught me a lot!

Posted by: Nasheia Conway | July 30, 2008 9:23 AM

Wow...great program, great article. I wish we had something like this where I grew up.

Posted by: JMJD | July 30, 2008 9:29 AM

What a fantastic service -- bravo Urban Alliance!

Posted by: EO | July 30, 2008 10:57 AM

I am so appreciative of Urban Alliance for giving me, as well as other high school students, a chance to experience a real work environment. I'll miss working at Children's and coming to workshop every single friday (lol) but i'll still keep in touch and visit every now and then. All the best to the incoming interns and the continuing summer interns. I hope you all appreciate this program and have as much fun as I did. Special Thanks to Kristina Gray and Tameka Logan for all the help throughout the year. I'll miss you guys!!!

Posted by: Laura | July 30, 2008 11:34 AM

I really appreciate the opportunities that Urban Alliance gives to us young people. It is really makes a difference in our lives. Thank you Urban Alliance!!

Posted by: Vanessa | July 30, 2008 12:12 PM

It was wonderful to read about Urban Alliance and the work they do to assist young adults making a transition into the business world. Many students lack the guidance at home and schools certainly have enough on their plate to offer this guidance. How rewarding it is to see so many students embrassing this opportunity and doing so well. I encourage these businesses to continue to support the Urban Alliance program. I hope more businesses will get on board so even more students will be able to have an opportuinity to participate. Hope to see more in your paper about Urban Alliance.

Posted by: Denise Florindi | July 30, 2008 3:55 PM

What a wonderful organization..I just finished "Audacity of Hope" and this is exactly what Barack talks about. I thank you for giving back and the sharing of your gifts. I will send this article on to all my friends..Sharon

Posted by: Sharon Brown | July 31, 2008 11:05 AM

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