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A Life-Changing Opportunity

Exposure to new possibilities and expanded networks through paid internships can be life-changing for many of the students we serve.

Yesterday 13 students in our Chicago program had another life-changing opportunity — the chance to meet and talk with President Barack Obama.

Last year, Urban Alliance teamed up with the Obama Foundation to launch — with the support of signature partners Bank of America, Hyatt, KPMG, the Pritzker Foundation, and AT&T — the Obama Youth Jobs Corps (OYJC), a partnership to bring year-long workforce readiness training and internships to high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors on Chicago’s South Side over five years. Our decades of work to place underserved youth on a path to economic self-sufficiency combined with the Obama Foundation’s goal of equipping young leaders with the tools needed to create change in their lives and communities will ultimately enable us to offer such life-changing workforce experience to even more of the Chicago youth who most need it.

Photo Credit: The Obama Foundation

More than that, the partnership has shown our students that the broader Chicago community is rooting for their success — a community that includes President Obama.

“A lot of times people like me don’t hear, ‘I’m proud of you,’ a lot, or ‘I care about you,’ a lot,” said DaJuan Allen-Johnson, a 2019 graduate of CICS Longwood High School who had beein interning at the United Way through a sponsorship from OYJC signature partner KPMG. “Knowing that President Obama does care, it lets me know that I’m doing the right thing and I’m where I need to be.”

Students — including the three interns hosted by the Obama Foundation — were at the Foundation office to meet with Chief Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis when President Obama surprised them. The excitement in the room was overwhelming, and the students’ screams of surprise resounded through the building.

While speaking with OYJC students about the importance of job training programs like this one to create opportunities for young people across Chicago, President Obama praised their hard work and commitment to forging new pathways to success. “Part of the goal of this program is to expose you to what’s possible,” President Obama said. “Everybody here has already shown extraordinary talent and initiative. All of you all are focused in a way that I can’t say I necessarily was when I was your age. So you guys are already ahead of the game.”

Photo Credit: The Obama Foundation

“Part of what we want you guys to all feel is the confidence to know that none of this stuff is beyond your capacities,” President Obama added. “We want you to feel that in your gut, that there is nothing you can’t figure out. And so if this program helped anything, it is for you guys to figure out that.”

Adarah Hale, a 2019 graduate of Kenwood Academy High School who interned at Northern Trust, crystallized the vital role such early workforce exposure can play for the youth we serve: “The Obama Youth Jobs Corps has done more than prepare me for the workforce, it’s prepared me for my life. And it has really given me the confidence to really go out into the world and pursue what I want.”

“A lot of minority students or people who look like the people in this room are always two steps behind in life,” Adarah continued, “and with this opportunity of Urban Alliance and working in association with the Obama Youth Jobs Corps, we all feel like we really got a chance to have an even playing field now.”

As students prepare to wrap up their year-long Urban Alliance experience this summer and take the next step in their professional journeys, President Obama reminded them to remember their hometown. “Part of our goal is also to make sure that you recognize that even as you succeed, that the communities from which you come are going to need you to be active and involved and engaged and focused,” President Obama said. “Because all of us, as citizens and generally, have an obligation to make sure that we’re tending to the city we live in, the country we live in.”

We are excited to see what this next generation of leaders will accomplish. If what they’ve already achieved this year is any indication, these young people have a bright future ahead. And that’s good news for the South Side, for Chicago, and for this country.

The Obama Youth Jobs Corps has partners across the city of Chicago, including our signature partners Bank of America, Hyatt, and KPMG, who are hosting interns each year. If you’re a company based in Chicago who wants to host an OYJC intern next year, please reach out to us at info@theurbanalliance.org to learn more.