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When Eddie Cotton was growing up, he didn’t know anyone who worked in an office. And the Chicago teen’s future was uncertain.

That changed when he got connected with an internship program called Urban Alliance, which placed him four days a week after school in a job with the Chicago Bulls’ community relations team.

Cotton, now 21, thrived in his internship and it opened possibilities for him. He is a junior at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but he still works with the Bulls on his breaks and that opportunity has shaped his career plans: He is majoring in community and nonprofit leadership.

“It was my first look into the real world,” Cotton says. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

Now Detroit teens can benefit from similar hands-on jobs while still in high school. Urban Alliance is coming to the Motor City for the first time, in a partnership with the Quicken Loans Community Fund. The two organizations are making the announcement today at Randolph Career and Technical Center.

The program kicks off this fall with a pilot group of 40 students from Breithaupt Career Technical Center, Osborn High School and Randolph Career Technical Center -- all high schools within the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The Quicken Loans Community Fund, the company’s philanthropic arm, strategically invests in several areas within Detroit, with a focus on housing stability, entrepreneurship and education and employment.

The Urban Alliance partnership is a logical next step in the education realm, following other projects already underway in the city’s schools.

Quicken seeks to build a talent pipeline among Detroit residents, to not only improve their futures, but to fashion a workforce that can fulfill the company’s needs in the areas of IT, construction and customer service, among others.

“We’ve been investing in great training and education programs, but at the end of the day, we want to tie all those investments to real job opportunity in high demand careers,” says Laura Grannemann, vice president of strategic investments for the Quicken Loans Community Fund. Quicken will serve as the anchor employer for Urban Alliance.

The Community Fund and Bedrock, Quicken’s real estate division, have already invested significantly in school projects, including the renovation of Breithaupt. That school will offer training to hundreds of young people, as well as adults, in the culinary arts, hospitality, welding and automotive service.

Urban Alliance began in Washington, D.C., and is a 10-month program for economically-disadvantaged high school seniors that offers them paid internships in a professional setting, job skills training, mentoring and other post-internship support. The nonprofit has expanded to Baltimore, Northern Virginia, Chicago -- and now Detroit.

Eshauna Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance, says the program has already selected the Detroit students for the first year, and those students have begun a six-week intensive training to get them ready for the workplace. This first cohort of students will work within the Quicken Loans family of companies. The goal is to expand the program’s reach the next few years.

Smith points to the program’s record of success: 100 percent of Urban Alliance students graduate from high school, and over 90 percent are accepted to college. And 80 percent of enrolled alumni stay on for a second year -- a predictor of college completion. A recent six-year randomized controlled trial found that completing the program had a statistically significant impact -- 23 percentage points -- on young men (many of whom are African American) attending college.

“It’s really about helping young people increase their access to economic opportunity and become productive citizens,” Smith says. “We feel especially honored to bring the model to Detroit and to be able to do the best we can to be a part of the community.”

Urban Alliance says more than 80 percent of its alumni enroll in college -- compared to 61 percent of DPSCD graduates.

Cotton, who is now on Urban Alliance’s alumni board, says Detroit students will benefit from the program -- just as he did.

“Everyone in the office became my mentor,” says Cotton. “I talked with them a lot. It provided me with a sense that there are people out there who are looking out for me.”

ijacques@detroitnews.com 

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