The young man, 15, had burns covering most of his body. A fire from childhood left him with a couple of amputations on his hands. Those didn't stop him from learning to code with his wrists.
Like any other student, the high schooler joined Hustle Camp at Marina Vista Community Center, a haven of free Friday night education, to build websites, design logos, clothing line, app and album covers, to make a business. What stunned Roy Mathews, Workforce Development manager for the Greater Sacramento Urban League, was not just his growth-but that of the other students.
"What was so awesome was to see how when we progressed through the program, the kids could see him as a person," Mathews said, describing a robot he made and presented after. "To see him stand in front of everyone and explain how it works, to see how confident he was-that was a life transformed."
Based at SHRA public housing communities in Meadowview and the 700 units formerly known as Seavey Circle, the program aims to make entrepreneurship and technology accessible in underserved communities of Sacramento. Hacker Lab, Comcast, Code for Hood, Urban League and SHRA teamed up to offer two sites of teen programming every Friday through June from 5 - 7 p.m.
"We're trying to awaken the genius in all of them. We're trying to show these kids that all things are possible," Mathews said.
Code for Hood, recently awarded Assemblymember Kevin McCarty's Nonprofit of the Year award, holds hackathons in underserved during the year and proposed the idea to Comcast in February.
"These kids are very green to technology; not so green to entrepreneurship. They've learned to hustle," said Alona Jennings, who runs day-to-day operations for Code for Hood. "We wanted to form the program to show how much of a difference they can make using those skills with technology."
The first class included a business idea dreaming session students walked away with a one-page business plan. The second class taught graphic design skills; the third, a one-page static website; then, social media tools and later, to make a commercial, all leading up to a Shark Tank-style finale.
Meeting students in their communities is critical said Code for Hood and Hacker Lab CEO Gina Lujan.
"Our youth are the foundation of our future. We need to introduce our youth to all possibilities and demystify technology," Lujan said, who grew up in South Sacramento, experiencing homelessness. "Too often these resources are in midtown only. We need to do local economic development and youth education in underserved communities more."
Mathews said Urban League partnered with Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) to provide job skills in the Marina Vista community.
"We've brought the services right into the heart of the community. We're here, feet on the ground every day," Mathews said.
Attendance has increased each time. The team brought a DJ the second gathering, drawing folks from a park. The mission is in tandem with Urban League's, Mathews said, which is holding Friday youth pop-ups with food, open jam and silent discos announced by youth on Urban League social media.
"Many of these kids had never heard of this stuff until we came out here. You have to make it relevant to them," Mathews said. "We're trying to make it normal. Success is learned, just like bad habits."
Jennings thanked Comcast for making entrepreneurship accessible as the lead sponsor.
"We want to give these students who spend their time and efforts to be rewarded for it and advanced by the community," Jennings said. "Thanks to Comcast for helping level the playing field for all youth."
Students will engage in a Shark Tank-style finale, with three $500 scholarships to help advance their ideas. Interested in supporting? Contact Alona at 916-889-0088.