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In the poorest city in the United States, Hopeworks offers stability and promise for inner-city youth.
The statistics concerning poverty and education for Camden, New Jersey, are staggering:
In 1999, concerned members of the Camden community organized the nonprofit Hopeworks program to help address some of these problems. The program initially was intended to train youth in Web site design – originally to high-school dropouts.
To date, more than 300 in-school students and dropout students have completed basic training in the Hopeworks ‘N Camden program. The program has grown beyond basic training, and it helps participants set goals, make plans for the future, and stick to them. Participants also prepare to earn college degrees in Web site design and other high-tech fields. Additionally, in-school students are given motivation to stay in school.
Today, Hopeworks ‘N Camden serves 14- to 23-year-old Latino and African-American youths. Through the Hopeworks program, participants learn Web site design, geographic information services (GIS), computer networking and repair, and video. The program combines computer-based learning with on-the-job learning and learning by teaching others. Each participant develops his or her own Personal Development Plan.
According to Hopeworks ‘N Camden Executive Director Father Jeff Putthoff, S.J., “We’re a youth-development program that uses technology to work with youth who are both in school and out of school. Out-of-school youths we help get back in school, and in-school youths we help stay in school.
“As youths progress through our training, they execute a Personal Development Plan, they work with the literacy director to build their literacy, and those who develop really good skills are able to start work in one of our two businesses. We have a Web site design and development business, and a GIS business, which is like the making of maps – the visualization of data.”
A multiyear grant from the Subaru of America Foundation helps to fund the program’s literacy training. Through it, Hopeworks’ Literacy Director Leigh Purnell provides one-on-one tutoring to in-school and out-of-school youth in the program. She develops individualized courses of study in the areas of reading, language arts, writing, and math for each participant, based on individual needs.
“We’re doing youth development, though we have two businesses,” said Fr. Putthoff. “We’re not a business that has the luxury of interns. We are youth development that has the luxury of having businesses. The real challenge is that we have to run two businesses professionally with all the expectations that someone would have for business, and yet we work with people you might not normally have in business right off the bat.
“The idea is that the technology is actually helpful to them, because they have failed and they have not done well in school. So the technology serves as something that they’re not supposed to do well, and when they begin to do well at it, then it surprises them. We use that to make them think more about their future and about what’s possible. We kind of trick them.”
For more information about Hopeworks ‘N Camden, go to www.hopeworks.org.
Subaru in the Community