Last fall, the youth development organization Hopeworks 'N Camden hosted its first-ever hack-athon, an event aimed at using technology to find solutions to the city's economic problems.
The hack-athon, sponsored by companies that included Subaru of America and Starbucks, hosted 96 young men and women, plus 20 from Hopeworks, as well as 14 developers from various companies. The event has led to a growing relationship between Hopeworks, which provides young Camden residents with high-tech job training, and Subaru, which has since offered company tours and information technology workshops to aspiring Web developers, said Hopeworks executive director Dan Rhoton.
On April 16, Hopeworks will hold its second hack-athon, this time with an eye toward addressing the city's violence. Instead of adults having the same conversation about how to keep kids off the streets and away from guns, Rhoton said, Camden's youngest residents should be leading the discussion.
"We want to keep shattering people's ideas of what Camden residents can do," Rhoton said. "Part of our goal is to say, 'We don't need anyone to save Camden. We got this!' "
Based in North Camden, Hopeworks serves about 300 kids and young adults a year. It has a small residential home and also works with other local organizations on treating the trauma associated with poverty, violence, and other social problems Camden residents face.
The first hack-athon paired young people with developers from companies like Subaru, Girl Develop It, and Maverick Web Mobility. This year those groups will be back, Rhoton said, along with representatives from Microsoft and Ticketleap. Webimax, the web design company that last year moved to the Camden waterfront, is also on board, and is already talking to Hopeworks about internship possibilities, Rhoton said. The event will be hosted at the Camden Co-Lab, a coworking office space that opened last year in the Waterfront Technology Center.
Last year's hack-athon led to job opportunities for several Hopeworks students, such as 19-year-old Justin Connor, who said he will soon start an internship in Subaru's information technology department. A computer science major at Camden County College, Connor started training with Hopeworks about a year ago and lives in the organization's residential home.
"Camden has a lot of potential," he said. "There are so many people here who are willing to help people like me. It's easy to look at Camden from a distance and just see the bad, but when you're here you see all the good in the details."
Companies like Subaru, Holtec and Lockheed Martin have been promised generous tax incentives through the state if they move to Camden, and many in the city have voiced concern that the relocations will do little to help average Camden residents.
But given the involvement thus far from companies like Subaru and Webimax, Rhoton said, there are reasons to be hopeful.
"There's no reason our young people can't be the nucleus for another emerging tech scene," Rhoton said. "And there's no reason these companies wouldn't want to collaborate with them."
To sign up for the hack-athon, go to hopeworks.ticketleap.com/camden-hackathon/