Magazine article American Forests

Melding Hope and High Tech: This New Jersey Nonprofit Has Built a Reputation for Turning High-Risk Youth into Highly Skilled Employees

Magazine article American Forests

Melding Hope and High Tech: This New Jersey Nonprofit Has Built a Reputation for Turning High-Risk Youth into Highly Skilled Employees

Article excerpt

Although the weekend moving company job left him plenty of time for schoolwork and skateboarding, Frank Castillo didn't want to load and unload trucks forever. When a friend told the 16-year old Camden, New Jersey, resident about Hopeworks' website design and development program, Castillo thought it was "worth checking out."

Now 18 and bound for Rutgers in the fall to pursue computer and information science, Castillo readies his crew of 11 Hopeworks youth for a day in the field. Clutching hand-held computers and DBH tapes, the group's summer goal of completing a detailed survey of every Camden street tree.

When the New Jersey Tree Foundation (NJTF), a statewide tree planting nonprofit, needed detailed information on the city's existing tree cover, it partnered with Hopeworks to conduct a study using AMERICAN FORESTS' CITYgreen software. When completed, the project will help NJTF and the Camden Public Housing Authority find the most suitable locations for new trees while quantifying the air quality, energy conservation, and water storage benefits provided by the existing tree canopy.

It's an example of how Hopeworks has built a reputation as one of Camden's premier geographic information systems (GIS) and website design outfits. Engaging more than 400 at-risk youth, the nonprofit has completed more than 30 major municipal GIS projects, including Camden's first-ever property parcel map. With this important data layer in its portfolio, the contracts keep pouring in. And so do the city's youth, looking for scant opportunities in a city with a high school dropout rate of 70 percent and more than half its residents below the poverty line.

After young trainees complete a nonpaid training in which they design and build personal web pages, they are offered paying jobs to ply their new skills contributing to actual client projects secured by Hopeworks staff. …

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