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Hopeworks was founded by a local priest and teacher in 1999. Photo: Hopeworks.
Hopeworks was founded by a local priest and teacher in 1999. Photo: Hopeworks.

How Hopeworks Camden works to flip the narrative of an entire city

Started in 1999, the nonprofit works to mentor youth towards their dreams through education and entrepreneurship programs.

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Hopeworks, the local nonprofit organization in Camden, is teaching youth technology skills and communication expertise to send them off into the real world.

The organization was founded by a priest and a local teacher in 1999 who wanted to work towards ending the violence and poverty that plagued the Camden area by providing frustrated youth with guidance.

Their goal was to offer important training to local high school dropouts to gear them up for their future and learn the proper skills and education to help them succeed in life.

Luis Olivieri, a Geographic Information System Director at Hopeworks, has been with the company for seven years, and loves making a difference in the lives of young adults.

“I have worked in administration and a researcher and professor at the University of Puerto Rico and by far, this is my favorite job of all because we are making a difference in young people’s lives,” Olivieri said.

He was originally a community college professor, teaching children GIS when a co-worker told him about Hopeworks.

“I never heard of it, but I got invited to their open house,” he said.

By the end of the open house, he was fascinated by the work of the nonprofit and could see himself teaching youth.

A couple of years later, he received a phone call from one of the directors at Hopeworks. 

“They had an opening for a GIS teaching position,” he said.

He has since become a vital member of the organization.

Hopeworks official training program, called “Recode Your Future”, is designed for out-of-school youth to participate and gain technology training with job opportunities in a supportive setting.

Mentorship programs are also available for one year, and amounts to four hours a month for sessions to discuss future goals and ensure local youth are working towards succeeding and achieving their dreams.

“We also offer web design, computer classes, resume building workshops, and interview workshops,” he said.

While youth members are free to come in and sign up for the classes at their office, another way that young adults hear about the nonprofit is when Hopeworks visits their high school.

“They also hear about us by word of mouth,” said Olivieri.

The process of Hopeworks starts off by signing students up for their interested subject. 

The training classes usually range from six to eight weeks. After classes are over, there are interviewing and resume building workshops that are offered. They are then able to intern for Hopeworks as a way to learn more about the workforce.

After they go through those steps, they also start applying to various jobs throughout the country. Some students find themselves even working internationally for high end businesses.

Olivieri, a native of Puerto Rico, wants struggling youth who are dealing with unhealed trauma to know that the door is always open for them at Hopeworks.

“I always say that sometimes in our lives, we need a push in the right direction,” said Olivieri. “I know how it feels to be 17 years old and not care about college, I want to steer these students in the right direction.”

Hopeworks’ distinctive combination of teaching and confidence-building has been a success with over 85% of youth associates earning high-wage jobs at the end of their work training.

“For many, Camden is known as a violent area, but with Hopeworks, we are breaking that cycle,” said Olivieri.

The nonprofit relies on donations from local citizens, in order to keep its doors open they need donors that believe in their special work.

To contribute to Hopeworks, check out their website.

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