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Ariel Santos, Manager of Institutional

Year Up: Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The Opportunity Divide. It’s prevalent in hundreds of communities across the United States, especially where young adults and their families are faced with economic and community hardships. When you’re not in a supportive environment that surrounds you, it’s almost impossible to even recognize the opportunities that are out there. That’s why it is so critical to have amazing organizations like Year Up that were established to close the opportunity divide. The team behind the organization works to provide Urban Youth with the skill-set, work experience and more importantly support to achieve success. We speak with Ariel Santos, 24, Manager of Institutional Giving to learn more about Year Up, its successes, challenges and future plans to look out for. Take a moment to learn more as we feature this important organization in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.


Year Up





Name, Title

Ariel Santos, Manager of Institutional Giving




Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
Seattle, WA

Current residence

Boston, MA


Tufts University, Bachelor in International Relations, 2004, cum laude

Work Experience

Year Up, Development Specialist, Nov. 2005-Jun. 2006;
Flynn & Clark, P.C., Paralegal, August 2004-Oct. 2005.



About the non-profit

Year Up’s mission is to close the opportunity divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.

We achieve this mission through a high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, apprenticeships, college credit, a behavior management system and several levels of support to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.

Year Up will serve more than 500 students a year at sites in Boston, Cambridge, Providence, Washington, DC, and New York City.

Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides urban young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skill development, college credits, and corporate apprenticeships.

During the first six months of the program, participants focus on skill mastery in one of two areas: 1) Desktop Support / IT Help Desk; 2) Investment Operations. Equal emphasis is placed on developing the professional skills required in today’s workplace such as effective communication, leadership, and teamwork.

During the second six months of the program, students are placed in apprenticeships with local partner companies. A stipend is provided to all participants throughout the one-year, full-time educational program.

We have achieved excellent results to date:

  • 100% placement of qualified students into apprenticeships
  • 83% student retention
  • 90% of apprentices meet or exceed partner expectations
  • 87% of graduates placed in full or part-time positions
  • $15/hr average wage at placement
Year Up has grown from a class of 22 students in 2002 to over 350 students served in 2006 with operations in Boston, Providence, Washington DC, and New York City. While growing rapidly, Year Up has maintained a high standard of program quality. Over 85% of Year Up’s alumni are placed in jobs averaging $15/hour within four months of graduation. These successes are gaining increasing local and national recognition. For example, Year Up has been selected by Jobs for the Future as one of six organizations for their Career Advancement Portfolio due to our performance as a proven, scalable and best-in-class program. Year Up was also selected as a 2007 recipient of the Fast Company/Monitor Group Social Capitalist Awards. In 2006, Year Up developed a partnership with the WK Kellogg Foundation on a long-term national initiative to develop “alternative credentialing” opportunities for youth around the country.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As the Manager of Institutional Giving, my day to day responsibilities revolve around securing funds from Foundations and Corporations to allow Year Up to serve its populations and to undertake new initiatives. I am responsible for managing relationships with Year Up’s foundation and corporate contacts and for providing reports, preparing grant proposals, and researching prospective donors.

One of the benefits of working at Year Up is that the majority of staff members get to also play a very close role with our students. I serve as an advisor to 8-10 students a year, acting as their advocate and main source of support throughout the program. It is a challenging but extremely rewarding opportunity that makes working at Year Up a true joy.

Most notable milestones

  • Will serve over 500 students in 2007 across 5 sites in Boston, Cambridge, Providence, Washington D.C., and New York City
  • Fast Company’s Social Capitalist Award, 2007
  • Freedom House: Archie R. Williams Technology Award, May 2005
  • Fast Company’s Social Capitalist Award, 2005
  • Commonwealth Corporation’s Excellence in Partnership Awards
  • Dr. Stanley Z. Koplik Commitment to Learning Award, June, 2004
  • The Manhattan Institute Social Entrepreneurship Awards, Fall 2003

What’s the niche?

Year Up is unique for many reasons. Its combination of offering students college credit while also preparing them for careers in the corporate world has been highly regarded and sets us apart from other organizations. One of Year Up’s most unique factors is our close relationship with corporate partners. During the second six months of our programs, students are placed in apprenticeships in companies such as State Street Corporation, JP Morgan Chase, Freddie Mac, Fidelity Investments, Bank of America, among others. These corporations pay Year Up a market-rate for our apprentices, which funds over 50% of Year Up’s operating revenues, a significant source for Year Up.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Year Up will continue to grow and expand over the next few years as we open new sites and increase the number of students we serve. Scaling an organization to the national level is a very challenging task. Although we are all excited about the growth, there are many challenges associated with growing the organization without losing program quality.

What’s in store for the future?

Year Up has developed a comprehensive strategy for growth and we intend to have a powerful national impact. Of the 3.8 million “disconnected” youth – with no job or attending college – an estimated 1.4 million fit within Year Up’s targeted population (others lack high school or GED credentials) and about half of these live within the top 30 cities in the United States. Faced with such a vast target population, we realize that it will be nearly impossible to directly reach each individual young adult in need of a “bridge to opportunity.”

With this in mind, we have explicitly designed a strategy that includes the “indirect” levers necessary to influence the broader system that perpetuates the opportunity divide. Our gradual geographic expansion to new cities – as opposed to a more rapid push to “raise the Year Up flag” wherever possible – has allowed us to maintain the quality of our program while also providing the proof points necessary to pull these indirect levers. In the long run, we are confident that the most effective strategy for providing disconnected urban young adults with access to higher education and livable wage careers lies in changing corporate perceptions of where talent lies, and to offer tried and true model-based solutions to other existing, national youth-serving programs.

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Best way to keep a competitive edge

Never stop working hard. There is no excuse for not working hard and putting all you can into your job.

When I arrived from Brazil in the United States, my family had very little. Through the help of generous and caring individuals, I was provided the opportunities to become sucessful and stay on the right path. After graduating from college, I realized that it was now my opportunity to give back and provide others with the same opportunities which I was afforded as a youth.

Guiding principle in life

Don’t take anything for granted and always be grateful for what you have.

Yardstick of success

Being successful to me means being able to go to bed at night and knowing that I did my part to make this world a better place.

Goal yet to be achieved

One day I would like to write a book about the heroic stories of my family and all that we have gone through together. The Santos’ family has quite a number of interesting stories, which I would enjoy sharing with others. I have had this as a dream for a long time.

Best practical advice

Always be early and never be late. People say that 85% of life is just showing up and this is wrong. I think it’s 95%.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

I have a great friend from college who has always told us “Everything will always work out.” Although simple, it is something that I will often repeat to myself when struggling through a particular issue.

Mentor(s) and why?

My biggest professional mentor has been my current boss at Year Up. We have known each other for approximately four years or so and he has always been there for me when I have needed job advice, a little career coaching, or an ear to listen to my newest idea. Most importantly he has been there to motivate me to change the world. I value the opportunity to work closely with him and to soak in as much knowledge as possible.

My other most important mentors have been my parents. When they chose to move to the United States in 1994, they took a major risk to improve life for me and my sister. Their perseverance and desire to succeed have been extremely inspiring to me.

What motivated you to get started?

My parents have instilled in me the idea of helping your neighbors and to always offer a helping hand when possible. My humble and modest upbringing made me realize the importance of being grateful for what you have in life. When I arrived from Brazil in the United States, my family had very little. Through the help of generous and caring individuals, I was provided the opportunities to become sucessful and stay on the right path. After graduating from college, I realized that it was now my opportunity to give back and provide others with the same opportunities which I was afforded as a youth.

Like best about what you do?

I love getting to know people and hear their stories. Through my job, I get to meet a lot of interesting people, from students to donors to political figures, and I am always looking forward to the next person I will get to meet. I also enjoy working with passionate people whose primary goal is to help the popoulation that Year Up serves.

Like least about what you do?

I think what I like least is the ability to not be able to do everything. There are always projects, improvements, and ideas to be implemented at Year Up and due to the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, you have to excercise some discretion to ensure that you do not take on more than you can handle.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to work at a zoo. I still love going to the zoo and looking at all the different animals. To me, it feels like a trip around the world.

What was your first job?

Delivering newspapers when we first arrived in the United States at the age of twelve. I have always had a job since then, anything from landscaping to being a busboy at a local restaurant. All these jobs taught me how important it was to take everything you did seriously and to always have fun and a smile when working.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Ultimate Frisbee. I have been playing since sixth grade, when I first got to the US. It was a great way to meet friends and get to learn how to speak English. Ever since then I have been playing and currently play with a Boston club team called Death or Glory. It’s my second job!

Person most interested in meeting and why?

There are many, so I will list a few and why:

  • Jon Stewart: He will be one of the most influential people for my generation. When he speaks, young people listen and are moved to act.
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu: He is an inspiring speaker who worked side by side with Nelson Mandela to end apartheid in South Africa.
  • Michael Jordan: He was my childhood idol and he knows how to win. I would love to hear his advice on how to get ahead in life.

Leader in business most interested in meeting and why?

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google. They have changed the way people look at information. They have taken a tiny little company from a garage in California to the corners of the world. They have scaled like no other company has.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I like antique maps. I enjoy seeing what people thought the world looked like before much exploration had been done.
  2. I listen to a lot of jazz and Brazilian music. I always have my trusty iPod by my side.
  3. I am into all sorts of puzzles and word games, such as Scrabble.

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Loyal
  2. Punctual
  3. Genuine

Three greatest passions

  1. Family and loved ones
  2. Life
  3. Music

Favorite book

A few here as well (in order of most recently read):

  • The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Favorite cause

I have an affinity for working with immigrant causes. Immigration has always and will continue to be an important and constant part of American life and making sure that immigrants are receiving the support, guidance, and services to succeed is extremely important to me.

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Interview by Saba Nasser
Introduction by Sumaya Kazi
Edited by Valerie Enriquez

Also this week

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