The young people of Camden have big ambitions and big dreams. COVID-19 may have disrupted their plans, but from where we stand, they aren’t letting the pandemic change their goals. Michael and Quahnaz are two such young people. 

Amidst the challenges of this past year, they graduated from high school and earned web design certifications that have set them up for well-paid jobs and exciting careers. While our nation’s health and economy remain so fragile, Michale and Quahnaz remind us that the young people of Camden are incredibly strong.  

At Propel America and Hopeworks, we work with young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, many of whom have not always had the opportunities they deserved. We help them prepare for and begin their careers in different ways--our collaboration supports young folks seeking roles in information technology and web design. 

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Since we began working together in 2019, our organizations have provided a bridge for students to move from high school to a well-paying job and career path. Propel provides coaching and career classes starting in high school, then provides an affordable pathway to job training programs. Once students are in training programs, Propel provides ongoing support and a stipend for young people while they learn. Propel also ensures an interview with an employer partner afterwards. 

HopeWorks is one of the sites of such training, and with their strong commitment to healing and progress, they provide career readiness coaching, academic success coaching, and strong supports. 

These can include paid training stipends and even help finding housing if a student needs it. Many of the young people that Propel and HopeWorks work with are from low-income backgrounds, and some are recent high school graduates working low-wage jobs. Hopeworks and Propel therefore both provide personalized coaching for all throughout this process. 

Michael and Quanahz started with Propel America during January of their senior year in high school. Both attended Propel’s career preparatory “Core Course” at the Camden Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy (CAMVA). When COVID-19 took school online, Michael and Quanahz finished out their course virtually with Propel’s team. 

Both young men had chosen Propel’s technology and engineering pathway, and in June, they began training in web design at Hopeworks. From 9am to 4pm each day (at a social distance, wearing masks) they had sessions and virtual meetings with industry experts. They learned to code and start building websites, working for “mock clients” and finding solutions to web-design challenges. Throughout this programming, Michael and Quahnaz were able to shine. They finished their coursework in half the time of their peers.

When we met Michael, it was immediately clear how creative, energetic, and positive he was; he brought that to his work with Propel and to HopeWorks each day. He had an active Instagram presence before he joined the program, and after earning his web development certificate, he interviewed with HopeWorks for a paid internship in social media and earned it. He has already become an asset to the communications team. 

Right from the start, too, Quanahz has been relentless, determined, and thoughtful about his work with our programs. He showed up to training each day eager to learn and hone his knowledge. He applied for and was chosen for a Hopeworks scholarship for coursework at Camden Community College, and he is enrolled in classes for a degree in business administration today. 

Michael and Quanahz’s journeys--and those of so many young people we work with--give us great hope for our city. Too often, Camden’s young people graduate from high school thinking they have just two choices: go to a four-year college (and potentially go into debt), or head into a low-wage job with little chance for advancement. We are proud to have gotten the chance to help these two young men find a third way forward--one that sets them up for success in college and career with the backing of a meaningful certification, stipends, and personal coaching.  

We are grateful to know Michael, Quahnaz, and all of our students and Propel fellows, and we are certain our local colleges and employers will be, too. We also know there are countless incredible young people that we have yet to meet. In these dark and troubled times, we believe that if Michael and Quahnaz are any indication, the future of Camden is bright. 

Dan Rhoton is the executive director of Hopeworks. Taryn Fletcher is a former Camden schools administrator who is the executive director of the New Jersey office of Propel America, a non-profit co-founded by former Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.