When people think about technology’s place at the forefront of society, they might not always think about how it connects to young people from marginalized backgrounds. That’s where Hopeworks, a nonprofit social enterprise, located in Camden, that specializes in connecting youth with training and skills to obtain and sustain jobs in the tech sector, comes in.
Hopeworks’ client list includes New Jersey American Water, Comcast and Campbell’s Soup. About 300 young people work or train with Hopeworks (or its partners) annually.
For Dan Rhoton, executive director of Hopeworks, success for the young people that the organization helps means connecting their ambition and drive to tangible professional skills. “They have the smarts,” Rhoton said. “What we give them is the technical training, social and emotional skills so they can succeed professionally. After that, they actually don’t just train with us, but they work for us in our businesses for a six-month internship so that they actually have a portfolio to get the job. If we’ve done our jobs right, we help young people that have been really good at surviving move from surviving to thriving.”
Fine-tuning survival habits that they may have acquired is a unique aspect in Hopeworks’ plans to help young people become successful.
Rhoton cites Hopeworks’ social and emotional support system as two of the most important aspects of its program. “It’s exceptionally complicated to survive in some of the circumstances our young people find themselves in,” Rhoton said. “The thing I always say is, if you’ve been able to survive this far, you got what it takes. It’s just a matter of translating those skills in a professional environment. A young person that’s been homeless or trafficked or gotten through the justice system, they’re tough enough and they’re smart enough. It’s just a matter of surviving. To begin to thrive we just want them to redirect those skills.”
The nonprofit also has free coding events like its Hackathon that are open to youth throughout the Camden community, including ones that may not be involved directly with Hopeworks.
For Rhoton, Hopeworks’ future success can be measured in how many Hopeworks alumni can help create more opportunities for other youths of similar backgrounds. “We’ll know we’re successful if in five years Hopeworks’ young people aren’t only getting, but keeping jobs. [I’d like to see] the young people that finish this year take their experience in the industry and start their own companies, hopefully in Camden, and employing new Hopeworks’ youth. If we see that happen, then we’d know we won.”
This article was written in partnership with The HIVE at Spring Point. The Hive is a collection of organizations, individual practitioners, and youth who focus on strengths-based youth development that empowers young people to make positive change in their lives and their world.