"People ask 'do you have a website? and I’m like 'as a matter of fact, I do!'" - Marie Brennan, 2015 Hack the Hood Small Business Client
Last summer, local chef Marie Brennan came to Hack the Hood’s Bootcamp looking for help in marketing her food-related projects online. She wanted a modern, simple website that would give her the opportunity to sell the recipes she created in her free time.
"When I first was working with Hack the Hood, I was a private contractor. I didn’t have the time or the energy to do the extra projects that I was hoping the website would help me do," Brennan said.
She also wanted a chance to support the young people in her area. She was paired with a Hack the Hood youth developer named Jasmine, and spent time getting to know her as they imagined a new website together.
Interacting and brainstorming with Jasmine, in a series of meetings over the summer, proved to be the highlight of her experience.
“She was just so excited and positive about everything,” Brennan said. “The nice thing about Hack the Hood is it’s taking certain skills, like website building, and making it really real for the young people. And because they get to work with real people...it gives them even more confidence in their abilities.”
Today she still uses her website and continues to rave about her time with Jasmine. Check out Marie's site below, and if you're interested in working with Hack the Hood youth to build your own no-cost website for a small business or creative project this summer, apply here before June 24th!
An interview with Oakland native Mercedes Gibson, who now manages Hack the Hood’s small business program.
Do you remember when you heard that Hack the Hood built web sites for local small businesses? What was your initial impression?
Yes. I was a small business owner. At the time, I had a vintage clothing company and I needed a website. I believe I saw an ad on Facebook for the program, recruiting small businesses. I was skeptical about a “free” website, but I also believed in the power of community resources. I was definitely intrigued.
What were you doing before you started working at Hack the Hood?
Coaching with small business, mostly putting on events to generate interest and to entertain, because I love my city and I love local economy. In fact, you can still catch my Open Mic show at The New Parkway on the 1st & 3rd Monday night of the month. I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetics of my community. I remember riding the bus in East Oakland as a kid and seeing the boarded up storefronts and knowing that I wanted to do something about it.
Did you have any experience working in a tech-focused environment before you joined Hack the Hood?
I worked for The Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center in SF for 8 years, and during my time there I developed an Internship Program which included the Young Women’s Digital Storytelling Project. That was the first time I saw tech used to document the experiences of queer youth. I was so struck by that experience, I didn’t know tech could go there. I took those resources over to Rainbow Community Center in Concord, where we did something similar for queer survivors of violence. These were non-profits, not tech companies. However, I did learn about the importance of using media to tell your story. I love that. Your website is your brand voice, why shouldn’t you control what you say to the world? That is what a website can do for all businesses, big and small.
What is your core job now?
I manage the small business component of the Hack the Hood Bootcamp. It’s my job to provide viable applicants to our Youth Developers, while supporting small business in their application process. I also deeply enjoy organizational & small biz development. I love the rush I get when I learn of a local, small business. Businesses are people's dreams - and dreams are made of hope, determination, grit. In this way, small business is a positive, driving force in our lives.
What do you think Hack the Hood does well in how it works with small business clients?
The beauty of working with small business clients and youth is that, in some ways, they are one in the same. They are both an asset to Oakland, they are both coming to learn, and they can both learn greatly from each other. At Hack the Hood, we facilitate an environment for youth and adults to build together to get businesses more marketing presence and exposure online. Hack The Hood is always growing, improving, expanding. And the process for working with small businesses in our program has become sharper. Seriously - understanding expectations and applying has never been easier.
What have you observed about how the youth web developers are affected or influenced by the small business entrepreneurs they work with?
I love youth development, and that involves helping to build youth-adult relationships. Providing youth the space to act as web development consultants does a few things - it flips the power structure on its head, it introduces a young entrepreneur to an adult entrepreneur, and it provides a real world client to our Youth Developer. In terms of gaining experience with web development and digital marketing, this last impact is critical. It moves beyond theory and role play into actualization. It’s important that the youth we work with understand that there is a person behind the site they are building for a client. When you can put a face and voice to the development process, the idea that you are dealing in the stuff of dreams becomes a lot realer.
What kind of small businesses would do well to have Hack the Hood youth developers build them a web site?
Small businesses, individuals, churches, artists, community groups and local non-profits can all benefit from establishing a stronger online presence. If you were to pay for this web development service, market value would be around $1,000. In this process, what you don’t pay for monetarily as a client you give in time and attention, two things that are essential when collaborating with HTH Youth Developers. As long as you can commit to the build, I would say this is for anyone who needs a premium, starter site. The sites are simple, yet elegant. Honestly, one of the best things you can do is keep your website clear and consistent, which is what our youth are trained to deliver.
Why is now the time for small businesses to sign up with Hack the Hood?
Look around. The landscape of Oakland is changing - quickly. The construction alone beginning on International Boulevard and into San Leandro for the BRT expansion will impact many businesses. When customers see scaffolding and cones they assume you are closed. And for businesses without a brick & mortar store (many owners in Oakland) having internet presence in 2016 is key to be visible and discovered by customers.
The 4 P’s of traditional marketing were invented without digital in mind. Your website can and should be simple, but make sure you are controlling the voice of your brand as much as possible. It’s not enough to simply post a link to your goods & services. Content generation is hot right now and that means weaving your story into everything you do.
Devoting some time to your web presence can influence your customers' decisions and therefore increase your profits. Connecting with local youth addresses the digital divide. With Hack the Hood, you can do both.
Interested in getting your small business involved? Check out these links:
Small business page
Application for small business owners
Small business FAQ
by Mary Fuller, COO and Co-founder of Hack the Hood
Last month, we joined leaders within tech, philanthropy, the social sector, the White House, and former foster youth who convened at Google in San Francisco to think of ways that technology could help improve the foster care system. The result was a four point call to action to make sure we leverage the best tech has to offer to support the most vulnerable in our society. Here it is:
1) Increase Computer Access for Foster Youth
In 2015, the average American spent 11 hours on computers and other devices doing just about everything: searching for jobs, making a living, learning new skills, connecting with family and friends, reading the news, accessing health and other services, advocating for issues that are important to them, and of course watching cat videos. Many of us take that kind of access to technology for granted - as well as the benefits that come with it - but for foster youth, it’s a much different story.
Only 21% of foster youth in our nation’s cities have regular access to computers, and even worse, only 5% of foster youth in rural communities have this access. When so much of our economy, our education system, and our social lives are now online, this amounts to cutting off oxygen.
Creating real computer and internet access for foster youth would truly connect the disconnected - to education, jobs, essential services, health information, and to people and relationships they might otherwise lose. Cloud services can also serve as a safe place to keep essential documents, photos, and videos that can help connect them to their own history and facilitate transitions and accessing services. No more lost paperwork, no more lost memories.
According to Serita Cox, CEO of iFoster, it would take only $15 million to make sure that every foster youth has a laptop. But previous efforts to supply youth with refurbished machines haven’t been enough. True access must go further. Our youth deserve quality internet access, training, and technical support to make this work.
2) Leverage the power of data to improve the whole system
What if the technology that online advertisers use to feed us customized ads were used to help inform foster youth about support services that could help them thrive? What if the technology that Yelp uses to give us social recommendations for where to go to dinner could help foster children and youth confidentially rate the services they receive - or instantaneously report and document abuses at group or foster homes? What if there was a unified database used across agencies that could eliminate duplicate data entry, reduce the time it takes to process requests, and shorten the time youth spend in transitions - speeding their way towards permanent placement?
These are transformative ideas. But before we can do all this, we have to rebuild a dilapidated technology infrastructure.
“I’m not going to stand here and defend a system I know is broken,” said Raphael Lopez, Commissioner of ACYF at the Shaping Solutions event. “We haven't updated the data system since 1993 - the system responsible for children - that's not acceptable. We are trying to rethink how this works. Child welfare workers don't have the basic technology or systems...None of our child welfare systems across the country can give us live data, so by the time we collect and process all the numbers and report them out, they’re already outdated.”
3) Recruitment, training and support for foster and fost/adopt families
There’s over 400,000 youth in the foster care system at any particular time in the US, with over 100,000 waiting for adoption. Only half as many are adopted each year. There’s a tremendous need for well-qualified foster and adoptive parents. Yet we spend so few resources on recruiting, training, matching, and supporting the foster families who take on this very special job.
I know from personal experience that technology has the potential to revolutionize this space. My partner and I had been agonizing for years over the decision of if or how we should bring kids into our family. In the end, it was it was a video on a website, that convinced us to adopt through the foster care system. As good media does, this short video humanized something that had been an abstract concept for me - it captured the sweet character of a set of three siblings, and their fondness for each other, that framed the decision in terms of real children with real hopes and dreams. It was what helped me imagine myself as a parent - as their parent.
That was in November 2012. A month later, we had submitted all our paperwork. From that point it took just shy of three years for us to be matched with our two children. We should probably finalize the adoption later this year, four years after our journey started. If I felt like the delay were due to scrutiny and care and the best interests of the children, I wouldn’t mind. But what infuriates me is that this kind of care was probably only 20% of the delay. The rest was caused by a system that still matches families using faxes and monthly meetings where social workers share binders of terrible photocopies of child and family profiles. Why?
4) Tech career training for foster youth
According to a multi-state study, 47 percent of former foster children are unemployed and more than 71 percent report an annual income of less than $25,000.
“We lead the nation in the income gap...in Silicon Valley...We have a highway that runs down the middle called 101 and the students in the Foster Care system never get to the other side,” says John Hogan of TeenForce, one of Hack the Hood’s partner organizations that places foster youth in internships and jobs in San Jose and surrounding areas.
Increasingly, basic technology skills are fundamental for anyone who wants a career with sustainable pay. We’re not doing enough to ensure that our foster care youth have the skills and tools they need to succeed as adults, whether it’s in a tech profession, or really any professional career.
Hack the Hood is one of many working hard to fill the gap in tech training for underserved youth. We run a 6-week bootcamp that teaches low-income youth of color how to build websites for small local businesses. In the process, youth build soft skills and learn customer service, as well as getting exposed to local entrepreneurs, tech professionals, and companies. About 15% of our youth are in the child welfare system, and we partner with organizations like the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund and Teenforce so they can replicate their program specifically for the foster care population. Programs and organizations such as these are critical for supporting foster youth as they learn about tech careers and gain skills, AND also for building peer and mentoring relationships that can help foster youth develop their interest, engagement, and sense of connection to a community that can support their lifelong learning.
What can you do?
There is a cross-sector movement building that has a vision of applying smart tech solutions to nagging problems in the system that - in the end - re-traumatize children. Consider this an invitation to join the movement. Here’s three things you can do right now to further the cause:
This year, Hack the Hood will work with over 250 youth, offering bootcamps, alumni programs, and events that will connect low-income people of color, ages 16-25, to careers in tech. We've received a lot of positive feedback for our high level of youth engagement and participation, the value of the 21st century workplace readiness skills we teach (like project management, and using the Google app suite) , and the real-world focus of the youth projects (building web sites for local small businesses).
What we haven’t talked about enough, however, is our commitment to supporting the small businesses, emerging local entrepreneurs, experimental micro-ventures, and seasonal enterprises that are core to the economy of every local community. Small businesses and emerging entrepreneurs are often also on the other side of the digital divide. Only 44% of all small businesses are marketing online, according to a March 2016 study by Clutch. The reasons? Cost and unfamiliarity with the tools and strategies need to build a robust online presence.
Nevertheless, having a presence online is critical to getting customers - especially if you’d like your business to attract more people than those who happen to walk by (or you’re not a brick and mortar store). A recent article in The Atlantic says that Google researchers have found search-engine users are 38% more likely to visit a business with a website that includes the address and hours of operation than one that doesn’t.
At Hack the Hood, we deliberately focus on serving local small businesses in Oakland that need greater visibility online. To do this, we make sure that all the small businesses we work with have mobile-friendly sites, and that their critical information can be pulled into Google Maps and Pages. (See examples)
During their boot camp training, our young people not only learn web development skills, they learn to:
In addition, the Hack the Hood team, through our alumni program for interested bootcamp graduates, offers continued support at a reasonable cost for small business clients who would like help after the bootcamp with site maintenance, updates, or enhancements. Members also help clients with social media marketing and online presence.
How small businesses can get involved with our program
For interested and qualified small businesses, Hack the Hood provides access to trained youth web developers, offers a caring and committed client/developer relationship, and facilitates the design and development of a quality web site. This all happens without any charge to the small business client. The only costs are the domain purchase fee (which does not go to HtH), and the time required from the client to participate in the design and development process (normally 3 meetings).
Typically, we seek small business clients online, and through partnerships with local small business networks, merchant associations, neighborhood groups and small business incubators.
We’re recruiting small businesses in Oakland now through June 24th
Interested businesses can begin with this Participant Checklist to get a feel for the workload, Check out this FAQ for a quick, at-a-glance and finally, move on to completing the application.
Who are good candidates to apply?
Come find out more in person on June 11th
There is an Information Session open to all applicants & service providers on Saturday, June 11th @ 11am at Hack the Hood's offices (439 International Blvd in Oakland). RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
Need more information? Check out our links
Small business page
Application for small business owners
Small business FAQ
Some examples of sites built by young people at Hack the Hood:
Hack the Hood Blog
News items and musings on tech inclusion, youth development, buying local and more.