Washingtonians of the Year 2012: Veronica Nolan

The keys to success for inner-city kids.
Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

There are easier ways for corporations to give back to the
community than by hiring inner-city high-school seniors as paid interns,
concedes Veronica Nolan, CEO of Urban Alliance. “The onus is on us to make
it work,” she says. Nolan and her staff have to make the case to
employers, train would-be interns in office behavior, and arrange for
mentors to monitor the process.

More than 400 DC students now have internships in law firms,
hospitals, corporate offices, and other enterprises thanks to Urban
Alliance; all of them graduate from high school on time, and 95 percent go
to college.

Employers are often surprised at how much the interns
contribute, Nolan says—and how invested the employers become in helping a
young person succeed. Interns are often surprised that they’re treated as
part of the company family.

A young woman named Mary started the program less than
enthusiastic. She rolled her eyes a lot, Nolan recalls. Mary returned to
Urban Alliance soon after she started college to thank the staff. “I
didn’t realize how much you taught me,” she said. At a career fair after
she graduated, a prospective employer looked at Mary’s résumé, saw that
she’d interned at a top Washington law firm, and hired her.

Nolan started out teaching Spanish at the District’s Eastern
Senior High School as part of Teach for America. She joined Urban
Alliance—then at only one DC school—with the express purpose of expanding
the program. Now there are also Urban Alliance programs in Baltimore and
Chicago as well as an alumni department that offers everything from
financial aid to job-search assistance.

“We’re all in this together,” Nolan says. “I feel so blessed to
work here.”

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