Though its Camden office is temporarily shut down following word that the Camden School District would be closed for two weeks starting Wednesday, March 18, the tech education nonprofit is committed to doing what it needs to do to be there for its youth during this critical time, said Executive Director Dan Rhoton.
Hopeworks works with young people between ages 16 and 25 — around 100 at any given time — to provide them with tech, entrepreneurship and web development skills, which they then use to complete paid client work.
As COVID-19 spreads, many local companies have asked employees to work remotely. But working from home doesn’t mean a safe space for everyone, Rhoton said.
“Every impact from food insecurity, to income, to rent, that folks are talking about happening months from now is happening right now for our young people,” he said. “Yesterday one of our young people went from being one of three wage earners in their household to being the only one.”
Hopeworks provided 48 laptops to youth so they can work on client projects from home and continue to earn money. Individuals were also able to apply for free internet access from Comcast and download Adobe software if it’s needed.
The Hopeworks team is busy prepping laptops to send home with trainees and interns! Thanks to @ComcastNBCUCI, youth without internet access at home will be able to continue working and earning at this critical time. So grateful for our supporters who make this possible! pic.twitter.com/H8C1tOyvVN
— Hopeworks Camden (@hopeworkscamden) March 16, 2020
It will continue to run its coaching and academic support meetings virtually, though the Camden office will maintain a small staff in person for youth to go to if they need tech or food support.
Rhoton said Hopeworks was well prepared for such a crisis as a tech-focused organization. Its instructors practiced teaching classes via video last week and this week in preparation for the closure. The staff now begins every day with a virtual meeting where everyone checks in and talks about their goals for the day.
“We’re helping people change their lives,” Rhoton said. “You can’t do that over a video call, but we’re going to figure out if we can.”
Rhoton wants the young people Hopeworks works with to understand their value right now. We need them more than they need us, he said.
“What matters most is who can get the job done effectively,” he said. “I find when that’s the only thing being evaluated, our youth tend to do very well.”
Day 1 of working remotely. Team Hopeworks has our first successful virtual morning huddle! pic.twitter.com/rgSRyWKvEh
— Hopeworks Camden (@hopeworkscamden) March 18, 2020