Washingtonians of the Year 2012: Veronica Nolan

The keys to success for inner-city kids.

By: Leslie Milk

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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