New Medium post by Eshauna Smith: ‘Help us increase economic opportunity for Chicago youth’

Urban Alliance CEO Eshauna Smith published a new blog post on Medium about how Bank of America and Hyatt are helping to increase access to economic opportunity as inaugural Obama Youth Jobs Corps (OYJC) partners. Find out what a difference they’ve already made and how more Chicago businesses can join them as signature OYJC partners:

When Urban Alliance’s founder had the idea to provide jobs for high school students from one of Washington, D.C.’s most underserved communities, it took recruiting a few friends to actually make it happen. Since then, Urban Alliance’s strength has been the friends and partners who help us pair driven high school students from under-resourced areas with meaningful early work experience. The businesses and organizations that open their doors to our interns are the critical, final puzzle piece that makes our program so impactful for the young people we serve.

So when we launched a new program with The Obama Foundation in Chicago — the Obama Youth Jobs Corps (OYJC) — we wanted to bring our partners along with us. Our long-time partners in the city, Bank of America (also a partner across all UA regions) and Hyatt, both signed on as inaugural OYJC partners, deepening their commitment to providing more opportunities for youth on the South Side of Chicago.

We’re excited to be able to provide even more internship opportunities to young people through this partnership because we’ve seen firsthand just how much our students can succeed when placed at UA internship sites. Two such success stories are Deja Bynum and Megan Jefferson.

Deja and Megan both came to Urban Alliance with no professional experience. Both faced challenges in their personal life that made balancing work, school, and family difficult. And both started their internships shy and uncertain.

By the end of their UA experience, both won awards at the year-end Public Speaking Challenge, and embarked confidently on their next chapter.

Deja was a quiet, but driven young woman when she started her internship at Hyatt. She recognized her shortcomings, and challenged herself to network, interact with new people, and actively seek out conversations around the office. By the summer, her networking skills had greatly improved, and her Hyatt colleagues felt like family to her. And despite suffering a personal loss during her time with UA, Deja’s work never suffered, largely due to the support provided by her on-the-job mentor. She consistently impressed everyone with her efficiency, motivation, and reliability.

Deja’s hard work was recognized when UA Chicago named her Intern of the Year. She’s now enrolled at Alabama A&M and continuing to give 100 percent to everything she does.

Megan started her internship at Bank of America juggling a lot of personal issues — but she managed to start strong. However, after facing bullying at school, and dealing with financial and personal issues at home, her work began to suffer. Megan’s on-site mentor and program coordinator both wanted to see her succeed, so they worked out a plan to help Megan personally, academically, and professionally. That care and concern sparked a real change in Megan, and her performance improved by leaps and bounds. By the end of her time at Bank of America, Megan had exceeded all expectations, and impressed her colleagues with her outgoing, positive attitude and work ethic.

Megan’s transformation earned her the Most Improved Intern award. She is now a student at Harold Washington College and still comes back to Urban Alliance to network with similarly-driven peers.

Megan and Deja’s experiences illustrate just how important a strong, committed job partner is to our program. Both young women were able to draw upon their support systems at work to get through personal challenges, and push beyond what they thought they were capable of to reach even greater heights.

In partnership with the Obama Foundation and a host of supportive employers, we’ll be able to offer such transformative early work experiences to even more youth. And we encourage more businesses in the Chicago area to follow suit and sign on as Obama Youth Jobs Corps partners. Giving a young person a chance can truly make a difference.

Said Deja of her Urban Alliance experience: “I have learned to do much more than what is expected of me and never take my blessings for granted. I put my best foot forward every day and try my hardest to overachieve and be the young professional adult that I am destined to be.”

We have no doubt that Deja and Megan are destined for success. Join Bank of America and Hyatt in making the future brighter for even more young people in Chicago as an OYJC job partner.