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Resource type: News

New York Post |

Original Source By DAN AVERY A few years ago, Frank Rogers found himself at a crossroads. The child of drug addicts, he spent most of his childhood in New York City’s notorious foster-care system, bouncing between homes in Harlem, Brooklyn and the South Bronx. By age 20, he was a college dropout hanging out on the corner with dealers and getting into trouble with the law. “I felt like no one cared, like I was left behind,” says Rogers, now 22. “I knew I needed to make a change or I’d wind up dead or in prison.” A friend, Ricardo Arias, provided him with an escape route: He told Rogers about NPower NY, a nonprofit group that pairs at-risk youth with community-based organizations in need of tech support. Arias had graduated from NPower’s Technology Service Corps – an intensive 18-week program that teaches basic IT skills – and was already working full-time. Encouraged by his friend’s success, Rogers enrolled and hoped for the best. His gambit paid off. After graduating in March, Rogers is now employed as a computer technician at Lutheran Social Services, a nonprofit providing housing assistance and other services to families in need. And he credits the program with turning his life around. “It’s been the best thing in my life – the training, but also the confidence I’ve gained and the relationships I’ve developed. I didn’t have a lot of role models growing up, but the instructors still stay in touch.” That support system has encouraged Rogers to work toward completing his college diploma, and set his sights on starting his own business one day. Gregg Bishop, who manages students in the Technology Service Corps, has seen many success stories like Rogers’, but he says the road isn’t always easy. “We’re working with an at-risk population, so there are always issues,” says Bishop, a 33-year-old who grew up in Flatbush. Some students come with disciplinary problems, or are trying to support their families while taking classes five days a week. “We do hold them to the fire – if someone’s falling behind, they’ll have to sign a contract promising to reach certain goals,” Bishop explains. “We’ve had to dismiss some students, but we always leave the door open.” NPower was founded in Seattle in 1999; NPower NY, its first affiliate, was launched two years later (followed by programs in Atlanta, Detroit and other cities). The original concept was simply to offer tech support to nonprofits, but organizers came to identify another need. “We’d come in and do a project, then there’d be no one to continue when we left,” says board member Susan Hauser, a sales manager at Microsoft, NPower’s founding corporate partner. By training local youths in computer skills, they could give valuable skills to people with few career prospects, while helping meet a growing need for computer techs. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 300,000 tech jobs remain unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers. Students who complete the TSC program – including the 30 who graduated last Thursday – leave with certification as Microsoft Technology Specialists and Office Specialists, but they also receive a great deal of real-world training. It comes in part through five-week internships at social service organizations such as the Children’s Aid Society and Covenant House. “A lot of them have never had jobs before,” Bishop says. “We’re teaching them things like, how do you smile at a manager who’s rude to you? That’s the tough side. The tech stuff is actually the easiest part.” Hauser has maintained relationships with many of the students she’s mentored. “I saw one at graduation – he came running up and showed me his card. He said, ‘I never thought I’d have a business card. My family is so proud. We moved to a better neighborhood!'” The success of NPower’s Big Apple branch led it to move its national headquarters here last year, and to open a facility in Brooklyn – doubling the number of local students it can reach. The most powerful tool in attracting enrollees is simple word of mouth. When the training program was founded, most students were recommended by youth-assistance groups. Today, 70 percent are like Rogers, referred by other graduates. “I had a close friend in the program who just kept encouraging me to enroll,” explains student Kia Aaron, 24. “At first, I didn’t want to leave my job to do something that sounded too good to be true. But I finally said, ‘It’s now or never.'” Now finishing an internship at Abyssinian Development Corporation, Aaron says it’s the unexpected dividends that have made the program such a godsend. “When you sign up, you think, ‘This is just IT training.’ But besides troubleshooting and integrating information solutions, I’m learning about community development and all the new growth in Harlem. I couldn’t have planned for that.” Aaron could wind up staying with the Harlem-based ADC – NPower boasts an impressive 80 percent job-placement rate. “They’ve been hinting at hiring me,” she says. “It’s all very exciting.”

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Children & Youth

Global Impact:

United States


Children's Aid Society, Dropouts, NPower