Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Why tech education nonprofit Hopeworks is expanding to Philly

After launching the new location by the end of 2022, the Camden-founded org aims to train and place about 60 young Philadelphians into high-wage tech jobs in its first year, Executive Director Dan Rhoton said.

Hopeworks' Philly location on J Street in Kensington.

(Courtesy photo)

Tech education and training nonprofit Hopeworks, which has operated in Camden for more than two decades, has a motto about its new reach into Philadelphia: It’s less a geographical expansion than an expansion of impact.

“We are focused on getting more young adults into jobs rather than getting into another ZIP code,” Executive Director Dan Rhoton told Technical.ly.

But the org is indeed branching into Philadelphia at the end of this year, with a facility mirroring the look and feel of its home base over the bridge. The office, at 3400 J St. in Kensington (or Harrowgate), is in the same hub of buildings as IF Lab, aka The Idea Factory, and is supported by a multi-year investment from GreenLight Fund Philadelphia.

GreenLight’s $600,000 investment is joined by some corporate sponsors including Comcast, JPMorgan Chase, NBA Foundation, Connelly Foundation and Dell Technologies. The opening of the new facility is about a $1.5 million task, Rhoton said, and these investors ensure the project is fully funded.

“As a longtime partner in their work in Camden, we are thrilled to support Hopeworks’ expansion to the City of Philadelphia,” said Gwyneth Gaul, AVP of strategic partnerships and philanthropy at Comcast, in a statement. “Hopeworks has a proven model based on skill development, real-world job experience, and trauma-informed care that helps to propel young adults into sustainable wage careers.”

GreenLight has a poverty alleviation-minded investment model that centers on bringing nonprofits with proven models into new communities, and operates currently in 11 cities. Rhoton said that aligns closely with the mission of Hopeworks, which aims at bringing young people in poverty into the tech sector to then earn life-sustaining wages. In Camden, Hopeworks has seen 85% of its youth participants move into jobs with salaries averaging $43,000 at the end of their training experience, plus a 12-month retention rate of nearly 90% at those jobs, according to the org.

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The nonprofit aims to offer opportunity for young people — ages 16 to 27 — who find barriers to traditional tech bootcamps, or who dropped out of high school, or were working manufacturing jobs or at an Amazon warehouse, Rhoton said. There are other organizations in the city tackling barrier to entry or pipeline issues, but Hopeworks “picks up” people who might not intersect with the tech scene and gets them started. They’ll be trained, get work experience — say, building websites for clients — and get connected with employee partners. Then if they choose, they can join bootcamps or other orgs that might lift them to a higher salary.

“To properly address poverty, you have to be approximate to poverty,” Rhoton said. “It’s why we’re not in University City or Center City. We’re solving poverty and diversifying the tech scene.”

A blueprint of Hopeworks’ Philly location. (Courtesy photo)

At this new location, Hopeworks aims to train and place about 60 participants in its first year, and 100 in its second year. There have been Philadelphia residents commuting to Camden for its programming who are excited about a closer home base, the ED said. And the proximity to North Philly high schools, like Mastery Charter School, means the org can begin dual enrollment programs for high school seniors who won’t be attending college.

The building hosting the Philly location is a mixed-use campus; Hopeworks has even seen residents of the apartment building sign up for programming. The facility itself will feel familiar to anyone who’s visited the org’s Camden office, Rhoton said, with open workstations and flex meeting space.

Hopeworks is the sixth Philadelphia organization in GreenLight’s portfolio, including existing orgs Center for Employment Opportunities, Single Stop, ParentChild+, Year Up and Compass Working Capital.

“Hopeworks’ program is designed to work with young professionals who are traditionally the hardest to reach, serving as a crucial addition to Philadelphia’s tech pipeline,” GreenLight Executive Director Felicia Rinier said in a statement. “Many of Hopeworks’ participants are faced with housing instability, food insecurity, and some have not completed high school. While these factors would often make it harder to succeed in tech training programs, Hopeworks opens their doors to these individuals, offers wrap-around services and remains committed to their success, no matter what.”

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