Why I Give to MEDA: Volunteer-Donor Justin McCandless

MEDA’s mission of building equity through Latino wealth, place and power would not be possible without our many generous donors since our start in 1973. Such financial and technical support often comes from individuals: Whether they are major, mid-level or grassroots donors, we could never do our work without each and every one of them.

From time to time, MEDA’s Philanthropic Engagement Manager Lucy Porras will interview our donors to find out why they chose to give to MEDA — and to showcase the impact their dollars have seen. 

The following profile is of one of our ardent volunteers-donors, Justin McCandless. With the giving season upon us, we want to recognize and honor those in our community, such as Justin, who exemplify the spirit of giving back.

LP: Welcome, Justin. Can you tell us all about how you first became learned of MEDA, and then decided to get involved with our nonprofit in the Mission District?
JM: I learned about MEDA when someone at a tech meetup at Noisebridge, a nearby hackerspace, mentioned the organization and the good work they were doing in the neighborhood. I did an online search and discovered MEDA’s Mission Techies program, so I reached out by sending an email to Workforce Development Program Manager Miguel Velasco. I’ve been continuing to volunteer with the Mission Techies for over a year. MEDA Workforce Development team members have been great about bringing me in and making me a true  part of the team as a thought partner. 

LP: One year! What was your initial impression of MEDA?
JM: Right off the bat, I was taken aback by how welcoming everyone was. The team was gracious of my time, and passionate about making this 16-week, coding-intensive program work best for those enrolled. I was really surprised that such a great organization exists right here in the neighborhood when I had walked by Plaza Adelante many times before without knowing it was there. 

LP: What’s your first memory of volunteering at MEDA in the Mission? 
JM: I came in during my lunch break not knowing what to expect. I ad libbed a quick introduction about myself in front of the class and asked if anyone had any questions for me. I ended up staying and answering questions in front of the class for nearly an hour. That really made me realize how passionate the students are and how valuable it is for them to connect with people already working in the tech industry of which they want to be part.

LP: If you could describe the kind of values for which MEDA stands, how would you say they align with your own principles?
JM: I continue to volunteer my time and donate to MEDA because I see my passion for empowering the community and ensuring that everyone has workforce support accessible to them — and that’s reflected in MEDA’s work for the community. Free and accessible education and career training is vital for the success of our community. There is a disparity in our communities, and MEDA is helping tip the balance so that low-income, immigrant and Latino community members have access and a pathway to entry-level careers in tech. I’m really excited that I’m a mentor and part of the Mission Techies because I can see how I make a real impact in the lives of the enrolled students. 

LP: COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders hasn’t stopped you from volunteering. What does this reimagined version of your volunteerism look like? 
JM: Recently during COVID-19, I’ve been doing virtual “office hours” sessions, where students can show up and ask any questions they have about the course material on which they’re focused during the Mission Techies program, or about their career aspirations and beyond. It’s impactful to be able to directly help students with whatever is causing challenges. I’m thankful that my employer has, and continues, to provide matching donations every time I volunteer — maximizing my commitment to MEDA at no extra cost to me! 

LP:. What do you wish other people knew about MEDA/Mission Techies?
JM: Being in San Francisco, and in the heart of the tech industry, I wish others knew that MEDA is doing something truly remarkable by providing a coding school as a nonprofit — for free to low-income community members! There’s much news about startup coding schools and alternatives to the four-year computer science degree, and we have MEDA doing just that in our backyard! 

LP: Why are you supporting (MEDA) as opposed to other groups working on this cause?
JM: I stand by MEDA and the Mission Techies because they are at the intersection of free education, tech and empowering local San Franciscans. It’s important for me to be an active part of my community. These three aspects empower me to create the biggest impact that I can while working with this organization.

LP: What would you tell someone who is on the fence about donating or volunteering with MEDA?
JM: I can’t imagine somebody would be on the fence — especially during these times! The Mission Techies program is directly kicking off powerful careers for low-income people who don’t otherwise have many opportunities to reach that kind of success. Seeing those success stories first hand over the last year is so inspirational. Get involved with your community: If you can donate or volunteer your time, do so. It’s a win-win! If you can, have your employer match your hours — however many or little you have — as a donation back to the organization. Take a minute to learn about your company’s corporate-matching program to maximize your gifts for a great cause. We are fortunate that in the Bay Area many companies encourage and reward their employees to volunteer and donate to local nonprofits. Their programs, which can match your hours or standalone donations, are easy and accessible. In the beginning, I walked by MEDA’s offices, never knowing what they did or what great programs with which I would be involved. Take the plunge like I did: Reach out and get connected with organizations such as MEDA. Unleash generosity in your backyard — you’ll be happy you did!

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