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Hopeworks hero
• Oct 1, 2021

The young people who come to Camden, N.J., nonprofit Hopeworks to learn technology, entrepreneurship and career skills arrive with an average yearly income of $400. Ninety-nine percent are unemployed and some struggle with homelessness.

When they leave nine months to a year later, graduates land jobs paying on average $41,000 annually. They work for Fortune 1000 companies, app developers, video game studios, government agencies and even Hopeworks itself.

“The only requirement is that you want to change your life,” Hopeworks Executive Director Dan Rhoton said, noting that the organization provides paid training, academic and career readiness coaching and, when needed, housing. It serves primarily low-income trainees but has no set income limits for participants.

Hopeworks, founded in 2000, teaches young people ages 17 to 26 to code, design and develop websites, provides training for professional certifications. The organization says it , helps them “emerge from the cycle of poverty and violence to become powerful leaders and entrepreneurs within their communities.” It also provides web services to more than 400 regional and national companies, some of which wind up hiring program graduates.

Participants train at their own pace for two to four months, then work for Hopeworks for about six months to build their portfolios before the program places them with employers, Dan said.

“I appreciate being able to help others begin their careers,” said Hopeworks graduate Da’Shek Boone, 23, who now helps oversee the organization’s training room and teaches workplace “soft skills” as a youth trainer specialist. “I see people who come in with nothing and then leave with everything, To get to be able to be a part of that process, it helps me get up in the morning.”

A Competitive Advantage

Hopeworks trains about 120 young people at any given moment and 275 throughout the year. TD Bank has been a long-time supporter, providing funds and 30 to 40 volunteers a year, Dan said.

Lakshmi Stockham, Chief of Staff to Group Head, Innovation, Technology & Shared Services at TD Bank, serves on Hopeworks’ board.

Now, thanks to new courses authored and delivered by a small volunteer group from TD Bank, trainees are learning another skill that program leaders say will heighten their competitive edge—Agile, the industry standard for software delivery. Senior TD tech team members have been teaching Agile to both Hopeworks students and staff.

“We’re a better, faster, more effective organization because of TD Bank,” Dan said.

Agile has been embraced across various industries, noted Karen Tillman, TD Bank Agile Scrum Master Practice Lead, who has been coaching Hopeworks staff and trainees in the method.

“Agile techniques and tools are powerful and can be beneficial for any individual,” said Karen, who helped develop a customized Agile curriculum for Hopeworks with Parvez Yusufji, TD Bank Agile Coach Practice Lead.

Karen and Parvez, who had been looking for a volunteer opportunity, helped launch the Hopeworks Agile program more than a year ago after learning about the nonprofit at a 2019 fundraiser that TD helped sponsor.

“It was perfect timing,” Karen said. “We were amazed with Hopeworks' vision and commitment to the youth they serve every day. We wanted to jump in and help.”

While TD’s volunteers are involved in the Agile workshops now, they realized they couldn’t do that forever and developed a “train the trainer” concept to allow Hopeworks to continue the program, Parvez said.

“I love giving back to such a giving, strong and engaging organization that’s dedicated to bettering our local South Jersey community,” said Karen.

Parvez takes a similar view.

“I don’t think that there is anything more valuable than helping our fellow human beings. The participants are really committed to improving themselves,” he said. “We get a chance to come in and help them take advantage of what is out there. For me that means if one of the students really gets to change their lot in life … if just one person gets there, I feel amazing.”

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