Professional Development
Baltimore / STEM / Youth

Baltimore youth are turning Under Armour samples into bags for the city’s unhoused population

The director of Digital Harbor Foundation’s tech center sees the work as “skilling up” for the real world.

A collage of photos featuring DHF youth program participants and products. (COURTESY ROBERT MOORE/ALANAH NICHOLE DAVIS/MADE WITH CANVA)

This story is a part of Technical.ly’s Pathways to Tech Careers Month. See the full 2024 editorial calendar.

Digital Harbor Foundation’s (DHF) tech center opened in Federal Hill in 2013 as a space for Baltimore’s youth to explore STEM opportunities.

The center is led by Robert Moore, also known as “Mr. Rob” by many of the youth who frequent the center. Moore said his title as director of the center depends on who you ask. There has been some reorganization within DHF, and he said technically his title is still manager. The self-proclaimed “manager-slash-director” doubled down on his passion for STEM and Baltimore’s young people on a call with Technical.ly.

“My calling is direct service to the youth and I’m super excited to be able to work in that capacity,” said the DC native, pointing to a “rack” (DC slang for “a lot”) of things that youth might learn at the center through its beginner, intermediate and advanced programs.

Winter showcase

 

In the initial days of Moore’s tenure, the center wasn’t fully prepared to welcome kids. However, with pivots, it has been bustling. That’s evident from the presence of approximately 30 families at the center’s winter showcase on Dec. 14.

Moore said he had just wrapped the center’s fall-winter session, where DHF introduced three programs, one of which was the makers club. He and the eight club participants got in contact with Baltimore-based apparel giant Under Armour, which donated a shipment of demo clothes that would have ordinarily been thrown away.

That’s when 2018-2019 Baltimore Corp Elevation Awards recipient Lonnie Walker and Leroy Fowlkes, senior director of shelter services at St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, came into the picture to support the club project as partners.

Through a process of completing “empathy interviews” with its partners, the DHF makers club chose to repurpose the clothes from Under Armour to create bags, and further design them using printable heat transfer, for members of Baltimore’s unhoused population to carry their belongings. Scraps from the bags were used to create quilts that might hang in local shelters.

“We told the community what we were up to,” said Moore. “And then we asked for them to donate toiletries — different things that can go into our bags that will be going out to the homeless. And we had a serious turnout.”

Moore added that community members and nonprofits like United Way left boxes and boxes of toiletries for Baltimore’s unhoused population.

Digital Harbor Foundation CEO Andrew Coy shared his gratitude for DHF’s supporters in a year-end post on the organization’s Instagram page.

What skills might be relevant and necessary for STEM-curious youth?

Making the bags took a little of what Moore calls “skilling up”. It required the makers club participants to learn to use sewing machines and sell. Moore pointed out that emerging technologists may want to “skill up” to remain relevant in today’s job market.

“There’s some skills involved to get to where you have to go,” said Moore. “What needs to happen in today’s technology [market] or today’s education [programs] is diversity of thought and problem-solving techniques.”

Moore added that “AI is taking over” and emphasized his personal commitment to ensuring that nobody is left behind in the shift. He believes that individuals in roles like his may need to assist young people in comprehending processes and problem-solving to stay ahead of evolving technologies that could potentially become obsolete.

What’s ahead for DHF youth programming?

The center boasts youth maker programs in tiers such as Mini Makers, Maker Foundation and Advanced Makers. After the well-attended winter showcase, Moore said the center has been on a break. Programming starts back up in early February.

“So we’re piloting three new classes once again. [Our] Mini Makers are going to be working on tiny homes, so they’ll be building and learning about tiny homes and everything that goes into that,” said Moore. “Our Maker Foundation kids will be working in our next level of robotics with our maker bots. And then our Maker Advanced kids will be working on a new class called “App Design. And they’ll be doing app design using physical controllers or [what’s] called a micro bit using these controllers to control apps.”

Moore said that each new class offers a “progression” into how the technologies youth might learn about through DHF programming might be applied in tangible contexts.

Companies: Under Armour / Digital Harbor Foundation
Series: Pathways to Tech Careers Month 2024
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