Charity Spotlight: Urban Alliance

by Editorial

Wendy-Ann Dixon explains how a local nonprofit helps teens find employment.
By Kinne Chapin

Students of Urban Alliance. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ernst Photography)

We have all heard the old proverb: give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime. If you agree with that adage, than you might as well call Urban Alliance a fishing academy. The Washington, D.C. nonprofit focuses on meeting the greatest need of under-resourced high school seniors — the need to find employment. But in addition to working with local companies to find internships and jobs for students, Urban Alliance gives students skills ranging from job applications to financial literacy that make them better employees for a lifetime.

Urban Alliance participants work part-time in the public or private sector during their senior year, and continue with that organization full-time during the summer after their senior year. Students find themselves working for such diverse institutions as Bank of America, National Geographic, and The Washington Post.

By presenting such unique opportunities, Urban Alliance offers students unparalleled preparation for employment. Their students have a 95% retention rate with employers. But perhaps more importantly, Urban Alliance is also an organization that fosters an interest in education. Almost 100% of Urban Alliance participants graduate from high school, and from 85 to 90% go on to college. It certainly sounds like Urban Alliance is nurturing a new generation of fishermen.

We spoke with Urban Alliance’s Director of Outreach, Wendy-Ann Dixon, about what makes the organization so successful.

Quick Q&A with Wendy-Ann Dixon

Washington Life: What is the mission of Urban Alliance?
Wendy-Ann Dixon: Our mission is to empower under-resourced youth to aspire, work, and succeed through paid internships, formal training, and mentorship.

WL: How was Urban Alliance founded?
WD: The organization was started in 1996 by Andrew Plepler, an attorney who visited Anacostia Senior High School and felt compelled to do something to help the students. He asked the students what they needed to succeed and one young man simply responded, “a real job.” Plepler made an effort to find the young man meaningful employment. The young man then implored if Plepler could also find a job for his friends so that they too could be on a better path. Plepler convened with a few friends and was able to find jobs in professional settings for the young man and his friends. And thus Urban Alliance grew from serving a small group of friends to now serving more than 200 youth annually.

WL: How can people get involved?
WD: The public can get involved by encouraging rising high school seniors to apply, sponsoring a student intern, donating to the organization, or volunteering time as a professional resource for our program alumni. If you want more information, we have a great section devoted to getting involved on our website.

WL: What sets Urban Alliance apart from other DC nonprofits?
WD: Urban Alliance is the only year-round, paid, professional  internship program for students in Washington, DC. Our Interns receive case management, mentoring, and weekly training on professional development topics and post-high school planning.

WL: Finish this sentence: “I want people in DC to know that…”
WD: DC youth want to work and benefit from the experience! Companies have an opportunity to have an impact our community and local economy. We need companies to step up and be willing to take on an intern.

An Urban Alliance workshop. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ernst Photography)

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