Lifespan's support of Year Up Providence helps young adults get on career track through internships

Growing up in Central Falls and North Providence, the son of Hispanic immigrants, Daniel Cordero dreamed of becoming a doctor. But reality, long nipping at his heels, finally tripped him up. 

His family was poor and things only got more difficult when his parents split up, leaving him with the responsibility of helping raise his younger sisters. Lacking money for tuition, he dropped out of college, worked part-time jobs and couch surfed at friends' homes. Depression set in.

"I didn't know where I was going or if I was going to make it," he says.

Meanwhile, Dominique Fernandez was bouncing around too, shuttling between family members’ apartments in Providence, Taunton, Mass., and Brockton, Mass.

It was a struggle that began when she was born addicted to crack.

An investment with an incalculable return  

Lifespan leaders are effusive in their praise of Year Up. Not only does their support help benefit a worthy cause, they say it also provides a direct return on how Lifespan delivers care.

Dr. Babineau

"This truly is a mutually beneficial program," says Timothy J. Babineau, M.D., president and CEO of Lifespan. "Year Up strives to prepare eager, young people for the work force through valuable internships, while Lifespan, which wholeheartedly supports this mission, gets to recruit well-trained highly motivated individuals – not just for internships but for jobs too."

Lisa Abbott, senior vice president of human services for Lifespan, says that when she took on her position a couple of years ago, Dr. Babineau told her “I want you involved in Year Up because it’s important to me.” Having taken a seat on Year Up's board of directors, she now sees the immense value of Year Up, both to the students and the companies involved in Year Up.

Abbott also sees Year Up as another valuable way for Lifespan to enhance efforts to recruit employees with diverse backgrounds. 
When it comes to financial services and patient registration, "we need to have representation that is reflective of our communities," she says. Year Up students "are multicultural and live in our communities. I think that helps everybody.”

She adds that many of the interns come from the most challenging of circumstances and manage to succeed, which, she says, “speaks volumes about their grit and tenacity.”  She adds, “If we have vacancies, we know these kids have been working hard and have been trained by us and inculcated in our values. Who wouldn't want all of that in their workforce?"

As Lifespan's manager of information services, Jeffrey Berube has supervised interns in Year Up's IT track since 2006. He's hired more than half a dozen of Year Up graduates for permanent jobs.

"What I've found is that the people we get through Year Up are no different than anybody else. They just want to do well in life, but oftentimes they just don't have that opportunity afforded to them," he says. "Year Up gives them that opportunity and puts them in a position where they can show their skills and impress people."

Says Dr. Babineau, “We are fortunate to partner with a program that does so much to better the lives of future generations while providing Lifespan with employees who can support our mission of delivering health with care.”

Cathy Doyle, Year Up Providence’s executive director, applauds Lifespan’s commitment to Year Up. 

“To achieve the results Year Up is known for, we need continued innovation and partners who get it,” said Doyle. “Year Up Providence has lead our national organization with excellence for more than a decade and Lifespan is a fantastic example of a partner with vision and the same commitment to excellence.”

Through it all, she managed to graduate from high school and filled out paperwork to go to college. But her family didn’t have the money for heat and electricity, let alone tuition. 

"The bills piled up. There was eviction notice after notice. I had to put my education on hold," she says. "It was the scariest thing." 

Daniel Cordero earned a permanent IT job at Lifespan following a Year Up internship at the health system. 

Fortunately, Cordero and Fernandez, now in their 20s, discovered Year Up Providence and secured internships with Lifespan – one of the job training program's biggest supporters. That led to full-time, permanent information technology jobs at Lifespan for both of them.

"It's because of Lifespan and Year Up where I am today," says Cordero, who for the past two years has served as a field operations technician in network services and has gone back to college to pursue becoming a medical practitioner. 

Fernandez, who has worked in network services for nearly six years, expresses similar feelings.

"My life was going completely downhill," she says. Without the Year Up internship at Lifespan, "I honestly don't know what my life would be like."

Lifespan started supporting Year Up Providence soon after the national job training organization began in Providence in 2005. A national organization, Year Up’s goal is to help disadvantaged young urban adults get on career tracks. Lifespan enthusiastically committed financial resources to Year Up. It also joined other partners in offering half-year internships to Year Up participants following their mandatory completion of six months of technical and professional skills training.

Since then, Lifespan has brought aboard more than 60 Year Up interns. While some have capitalized on their experience by landing jobs elsewhere, most – 53 at last count – have been hired by Lifespan. The partnership has proven so successful that in 2017 Lifespan collaborated with Year Up to create a new internship tracked called "health care operations" focused on preparing interns for careers in medical financial services and coding. Lifespan hired all but one of the first wave of these interns it took on.

Couch surfing to computer troubleshooting

Cordero, whose parents are from Mexico and Guatemala, was born in Los Angeles. His mother brought him to Rhode Island when he was four. Cordero spent so much time helping care for his two sisters that he was absent from North Providence High School 200 days and almost didn't graduate.

To his credit, Cordero, 22, is remarkably self-sufficient and industrious. He taught himself what he missed in the classroom – just as he taught himself the piano and how to play jazz and R&B. When he had to drop out of Rhode Island College, a social worker assisting his family suggested Year Up to him. But he continued to job hop, working for a while in a tool-making factory then taking a stab at door-to-door sales.

After he heard about Year Up again, this time from a friend, he applied and got accepted. It enabled him to collect a stipend while earning college credit for tackling such subjects as business writing, customer service and critical thinking. He was placed on Year Up's information technology track, which led to his assignment at Lifespan. 

“The culture really prepared me to get better at interacting with others, everyone from doctors to patients,” he says. “Whenever I saw a Spanish-speaking person looking confused (on campus), I would ask if they needed help. That’s just the culture. The blend of Year Up and Lifespan was ideal for me in every single way. It got me out of my shell.”

Cordero did so well that he got hired as a client technologies technician, going out into the field to meet employees and resolve their IT problems. 

"I always knew I could be successful," he says. "I wanted to make my own opportunities, but after realizing I could really use a hand I found that Year Up was really the perfect opportunity and provided the best resources I needed at the time."

During lunch breaks, Cordero sometimes plays piano at the Lifespan Cancer Institute. He calls it a great opportunity "to spread positive energy" for patients and their loved ones. At night and on weekends, he pursues becoming a physician's assistant by resuming his studies and working as an EMT. His regular Lifespan paycheck and benefits have allowed him to get his own apartment in North Providence. 

Polite and mild-mannered, and friendly to the many staff members he recognizes in the hallways, Cordero now is asked to help oversee new interns.

"They know that I'm patient, that I like to help people," he says.

"Dominique and Dan are just two examples of how Lifespan and Year Up are creating nothing less than transformative experiences for many young Providence men and women,"  says Timothy J. Babineau, MD, president and CEO of Lifespan

From a shelter to a job and a place of her own

Fernandez, 26, has a quiet yet confident way about her. It can mask the doubts and fears she's felt on her career path and the personal challenges she has faced. Her story is so remarkable that she once was invited to address a Year Up audience.

"I stand before you a former homeless person and recovering addict," she said, standing at a lectern, and launching into a riveting and eloquent account of her personal story. She traced the arc of her life – from a newborn needing to be weaned off drugs to a high school graduate forced into a homeless shelter to a reliable and skilled employee.

Dominique Fernandez overcame being homeless while participating in her Year Up internship. Today, she's a permanent full-time employee at Lifespan. 

When her parents, who emigrated from Cape Verde, separated, Fernandez wound up bouncing between one unstable home after another. While managing to graduate from E-Cubed Academy, a college prep public school that’s part of Providence public schools, she found herself in limbo when family difficulties prevented her from applying for financial aid for college.

In 2010, Year Up presented her first real opportunity to get on a career path. But it's also when her life seemed at its most precarious. She had nowhere to live.

"Being homeless and going to Year Up was definitely a challenge," she says. "At the shelter, you have to be up at a certain time and back at a certain time. You are in a cubby room with three other people and you all have bunk beds. I didn't sleep. I spent most of my nights in the bathroom on the sink countertop waiting for the time to leave in the morning."

Fernandez found a place to live just before beginning her Lifespan internship on the IT Help Desk. She was worried she lacked the technical skills to be successful, but quickly realized she could do it.

In the News

Lifespan's partnership with Year Up Providence has garnered significant media attention. Check out reports by WPRI Channel 12 and The Providence Journal.

“When I first started out I was very nervous. I warmed up very fast once I met the team. They were just very welcoming and supportive,” she says. “By the end of her internship, I was head over heels with Lifespan. I applied to a service desk job opening. I was adamant I was going to get into Lifespan. And I got it."

Fernandez has been promoted from a level one service desk agent to a clinical support analyst assisting users of the LifeChart electronic health records system. 
Stories like these have led Timothy J. Babineau, MD, president and CEO of Lifespan, to further investments in Year Up.

"Dominique and Dan are just two examples of how Lifespan and Year Up are creating nothing less than transformative experiences for many young Providence men and women,” said Dr. Babineau.