The team behind Rowdy Orbit Impact believes tech jobs can help people returning from prison not only stay out of jail, but also lift them out of poverty.
In July, the group plans to launch an eight-month web development training program for 50 African-American and Latino men. When the program is finished, the company will help place the returning citizens in jobs. They have a specific target salary of $40,000.
“We’re not teaching people to survive, but we’re teaching them to thrive,” said Chief Strategy Officer Jorge Castillo.
The team is looking at a mix of grants or other public money and private investment to fund start-up costs both for the company and the first round of training, which is projected at $3.1 million. In the future, the for-profit company is looking to build a sustainable business model.
The idea that tech jobs can help to break the cycle of poverty has been voiced by policymakers from the White House to OneBaltimore. On the tech education side, the concept of training a workforce for tech jobs that need to be filled forms the basis for the work of Baltimore organizations like Code in the Schools and Digital Harbor Foundation. Rowdy Orbit Impact’s first initiative brings a startup’s approach to the issue, and a specific focus on reducing recidivism.
The team has economic arguments about how the program will be helpful. COO Kristine Masta says the program would infuse nearly $19 million of new taxable revenue into the local economy by 2019. But they don’t shy away from the moral goals behind the effort, either, citing a desire to change the narrative around returning citizens (a term they prefer to ex-offenders).
“What we’re trying to address here is that society is only as good as its most vulnerable individuals,” Castillo said.
CEO Jonathan Moore said previous work with the Maryland Food Bank and a visit to a prison left him resolved: “We’ve got to provide a solution. We’ve got to help people who are stuck.”
He tapped a team of “multilayer thinkers” to dig in. He worked with Masta in advertising. He knew Castillo, a former advisor at the Emerging Technology Centers, from his role with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. McKeever Conwell is the company’s director of technology.
The $40,000-a-year target salary can help the trainees move into the middle class, Moore said. For the company, that means connecting with nonprofits and community organizations who work with returning citizens, and businesses who will hire them.
In March, they will begin working with “community anchor” organizations that provide support through programs like mentoring to identify the 50 trainees.
While gearing up for the classes, the team is also laying the groundwork for future jobs. Moore said he is already hearing from companies who have a need for tech talent, and want to “insource” from Baltimore.
“That direct pipeline is there, and we just need to build and cultivate it,” he said.