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Maruf Hassan, 26, with mentor Tom Monjeau.

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THE FIRST STEP

Companies interested in getting involved with STEP-UP Achieve can go to www.achievempls.org or call 612-455-1562.

Rosenblum: Executives, there's still time to STEP-UP, so please do

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM
  • Star Tribune
  • March 21, 2012 - 11:59 PM

For businesses on the fence about investing time and money in the STEP-UP Achieve summer jobs program, here are three reasons to jump in:

Maruf Hassan, Ian Gacek and Celia Hernandez-Payan.

With eight years under its belt, the nationally recognized college and career-readiness program for Minneapolis youth has proof that it succeeds far longer than a Minnesota summer.

Hassan, 26, spent two STEP-UP summers at Hennepin County's Office of Multi-Cultural Services as an Oromo interpreter. The Ethiopian native is now a permanent employee, shifting his focus to case management, and is valued by bosses, co-workers and clients as being resourceful and compassionate.

"When he first came to us as a STEP-UP student, I could tell this was a kid who had it," supervisor Tom Monjeau said of Hassan, who spoke no English when he arrived in the United States in 2004.

"This was a kid who was going to go far."

Gacek, 21, participated in STEP-UP in 2006 and 2007. The Edison High School graduate, wired for technology, was matched with the Geek Squad at Best Buy.

Today? Gacek works full time for the Geek Squad out of his home, which allows him also to pursue a business degree from Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Hernandez-Payan, 20, thought she wanted a career in a health field. But working three STEP-UP summers at the Office of Multi-Cultural Services as a Spanish-language interpreter helped her find her true passion.

Now studying social work at Augsburg College, Hernandez-Payan recently returned to her STEP-UP roots to shadow a social worker.

"When I came back [to the Multi-Cultural Services Office], people said, 'What? You were just a baby when you started.' I really am passionate about social work, and a lot of that happened with this internship."

Much more could happen with greater business involvement, a point emphasized last month in a call to action to Twin Cities companies by Mayor R.T. Rybak and U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis.

"We always like to recruit new business partnerships," said STEP-UP spokeswoman Amy Shapiro, who spoke with a sense of urgency as deadlines loom and students await.

STEP-UP Achieve is part of the city of Minneapolis' STEP-UP summer jobs program, but is unique in that employers generally pay the students' wages. The program's participants include Best Buy, HealthPartners, Twin Cities Public Television and the Minnesota Twins.

Students, more than 85 percent from communities of color, earn at least $7.25 an hour while working 15 to 40 hours a week from June to August. In 2011, interns brought home $1.3 million in wages to their mostly low-income families.

STEP-UP was highlighted as a national model at a White House conference in January. On Wednesday, the program was awarded an $850,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to encourage its effective public-private partnership.

The biggest winners often are companies doing the hiring. STEP-UP Achieve interns receive work-readiness training certified by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. They're polite, hardworking and dependable. They smile, look you in the eye, shake your hand. They return your phone calls.

More than a few could be signing your paycheck someday.

Monjeau has welcomed this "burst of youthful energy every summer since 2005. The individuals they've sent have been fantastic," he said.

"We want bilingual people. They've done a wonderful job of preparing them for summer internships."

And for real life, when carefree summer breaks are just a memory.

"My STEP-UP job has led to who I am today, where I work today and to some of my best friends," said Gacek, who happily works up to 50 hours a week.

"They can help shape our future so we can help shape their company. We're their future high-level CEOs."

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com • 612-673-7350

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