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Year Up Chicago Blake Wehlage

FlexManage’s Blake Wehlage, Senior Operations Manager for Managed Services

Today’s article is written by Blake Wehlage, FlexManage’s Senior Operations Manager for our Managed Services practice. He talks about his experience teaching and donating his time at Year Up Chicago, a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults with a combination of hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, corporate internships, and wraparound support. 


After my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes’ first win and as they continue to dominate this season, I am constantly reminded of the mantra that truly influenced my time at Ohio State. Coach Woody Hayes’ quote, “You can never pay back, so you should always try to pay forward.”

After I moved to Chicago a few years ago, I finally found my way to pay forward, through Chicago’s Year Up non-profit organization.

I found out about Year Up during a round of interviewing service desk technicians for an Office 365 mail project service here at FlexManage. I kept seeing “Year Up Chicago” listed under education, and asked the interviewees about it, as I had never heard of it. The passion with which they spoke about the program and their actual technical and soft-skills made me jump online and search for it from my phone during my lunch break.

I’ve never been involved in much volunteer work, besides a couple Habitat for Humanity days while I was in the US Navy. However, the more I read about Year Up, the more I wanted to be a part of it. Quite simply, here is my industry, here is my city, and here I can make a genuine difference with my experience.

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, internships and college credits. Our holistic approach focuses on students’ professional and personal development to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.”

IYear Up Chicago’m thrilled that I finally found a way to pay it forward, not only for my city, but also for my industry. Since I began volunteering at Year Up in January 2015, I’ve mentored two stellar students during their six-month internships at Year Up. Both went on to have very successful jobs within help desk and data center support.

More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of conducting “A Day in the Life” sessions covering all things help desk for students about to begin an internships in entry-level help desk positions. Besides showing the obligatory The IT Crowd video clips, covering basic service desk/help desk processes and tasks, I made sure to tell them a few of my help desk “war stories.” I always tell the infamous Conan the Barbarian story, because it teaches the students that sometimes you’re faced with these huge tasks that seem as though they’re insurmountable when, in reality, they aren’t as scary as they seem. You just have to get started and keep working and you’ll be finished before you know it. But I’ll save the full anecdote for those who attend.

I’m always blown away by the enthusiasm and questions students ask me after my presentation. Honestly, it makes it all worth it to see some of the students come up, shake my hand, and ask for a business card or ask if they can add me on LinkedIn.

Year Up ChicagoThe success that Year Up has had in empowering its students is nothing less than remarkable. Last year they served over 3,000 students nationwide with 90 percent of graduates either fully employed or enrolled in post-secondary education within four months of graduation. And an even more extraordinary metric, the average starting wage for graduates was $38,000 a year.

Year Up students embark on their intense one-year program by developing professional and technical skills in the Year Up office’s classrooms. After six months, students are then paired with a corporate partner for a six-month internship. Some of the internship partners include: American Express, Bank of America, Citadel Investment Group, Deloitte, Facebook, Google, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Northwestern University, Salesforce, and more.

And Year Up is not just Chicago-based. They mentor youth from Arizona to Florida, helping students succeed all over the country. Click HERE to see all their locations.

Throughout their time at Year Up, students earn a personal stipend, transit stipend, and receive support from advisers, mentors, social services, and access to the entire network of community-based partners.

I know not everyone can carve out the time needed to mentor a student for six months, however there are four ways you can help Year Up bridge the opportunity divide:

  1. You can hire alumni through Year Up Professional Resources (YUPRO — http://yupro.com/),
  2. Host a Year Up student during their internship
  3. Assist during mock interview days or resume review
  4. Perhaps if you don’t live in a city where there is a Year Up office, you can donate directly to Year Up Chicago here: https://www.yearup.org/donate/?location=chicago/

Personally, I’m looking forward to helping out Year Up Chicago in any way that I can over the next year, just as much as I’m looking forward to seeing the Buckeyes win another national championship.