Abraham Velazquez’ immigrant mother couldn’t afford to buy her teenage son the computer he coveted. So she offered some maternal advice: mow lawns and save up enough money for such a purchase. The result was one-too-many sweltering days in the summer heat of Chicago leading to the buying of a basic PC, with Velazquez’ adolescent years spent taking apart and rebuilding computers.
After volunteering at a church to make their website, Velazquez honed his skills while studying graphic design at Columbia College Chicago. A lifelong passion was then transformed into a burgeoning career at a trio of ad agencies in “The Windy City.”
The successful web developer was eventually lured to the Bay Area by Apple, where he worked on the world-renowned company’s iPhone site. Three months ago, Velazquez took his experience to Dropbox, a company with some impressive numbers, as there are currently 45 million folks saving 1 billion files every three days. The tech giant affords users the opportunity to easily share everything from documents to photos to videos.
When MEDA reached out to Dropbox to see if they had a Spanish-speaking employee willing to be part of a Latino Career Panel at a “Get Connected!” event last May, Velazquez signed up. At this community tech event, Velazquez shared his story with families, noting the interest from the first two rows that comprised the spring cohort of Mission Techies.
The Mission Techies program – part of MEDA’s free Workforce Development – teaches IT essentials of hardware, software, networking and coding. As participants learn these skills, they then refurbish low-income Mission residents’ computers, at no cost. It’s a way of paying it forward via an innovative social enterprise model that is part of the curriculum.
Velazquez immediately wanted to be involved, looking to help Latinos from the habitually underresourced community obtain the skills to be part of San Francisco’s booming tech center. Dropbox fosters volunteerism by providing its staff with a certain of number of hours a year to give back — an opportunity Velazquez was ready to seize.
“When I met Abraham at the ‘Get Connected!’ event, we brainstormed about how he could teach his skills to the Mission Techies in a way that would make the most impact,” explains MEDA Technology Training Coordinator Leo Sosa.
The conclusion was to expand the curriculum’s social enterprise model. Sosa was well aware of a need in the Mission to make websites for small businesses. MEDA’s free Business Development program trains budding entrepreneurs on how to open a successful venture; unfortunately, many do not have the know-how and resources to create a website.
The result is that some community-serving businesses in the Mission will now be getting a website, which is critical to any business’ marketing outreach in 2016.
“We identified six small businesses in the neighborhood that had been MEDA clients and needed an online presence. Two of these businesses have received loans from Adelante Fund. Two others are actually located in MEDA’s Plaza Adelante business incubator, El Mercadito,” states MEDA Business Development Program Manager Edwin Rodriguez.
Velazquez worked on the WordPress curriculum, which started with each Mission Techie creating a personal website by the end of the initial two-hour session. This later turned to learning everything from how to assess the businesses’ online needs to garnering more in-depth HTML/CSS skills.
Once these ventures’ new websites are launched, the Mission Techies will stay in touch until it is clear that the owners have the tools required to manage the site and keep content fresh.
This addition to the Mission Techies program is slated to become an integral piece of the young adult free training, and underscores the service-integration model of asset-building programs offered at MEDA.
It’s called building community capital.
It’s about bettering lives.
It’s happened because of one person choosing to make a difference via volunteerism: Abraham Velazquez.