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HopeWorks CEO Dan Rhoton listens to Bill Golderer speak before an audience in front of the HopeWorks building in Kensington.
Pictured are HopeWorks CEO Dan Rhoton (left) listening to President and CEO of United Bill Golderer (right). Photo credit: Sekinah Brodie.

HopeWorks reaffirms its mission in celebration of the opening of new Kensington location

To celebrate the opening of a new building in Kensington, the Camden-based organization hosted a networking event between its supporters and Philly nonprofits.

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Within Philadelphia, many of the city’s youth are seeking jobs, but cannot attain them due to a lack of training, some being locked out of highly demanded roles due to a lack of a college education or failure to finish high school.

Rather than stand idly by, organizations are stepping in to provide this much needed training, one being the nonprofit HopeWorks.

HopeWorks is a nonprofit organization that provides technical training to youths, teaching skills in subjects including front end web development, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and data visualization.

They have expanded outwards beyond these skill sets as well, partnering with companies to provide their trainees with valuable skills beyond their core curriculum. One example is a partnership with Rodriguez Consulting, a civil engineering company.

Recently, HopeWorks opened a location in Kensington, expanding its reach from New Jersey further to youth living within the Philadelphia area to train them to enter the workforce and acquire jobs. 

On April 14, 2023, Hopeworks hosted a grand opening event in celebration of the new location.

The event brought together multiple organizations staffed by and dedicated to providing career opportunities to diverse young adults, gathered by Dan Rhoton and HopeWorks to provide a networking event between groups with similar goals.

Rhoton, the Executive Director of HopeWorks, opened by recognizing the support of the multitude of organizations, companies, and investors, many of whom were present or had representatives in attendance.

Of these supporters, three speakers were invited to speak on the value of recognizing unrecognized talent and the importance of supporting the youth of today.

Don’t say “I don’t care”

Bill Golderer, the President and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, was the first speaker of the event.

As United Way has been an investor of HopeWorks since the start of Golderer's time as CEO, Golderer has known the organization since before his appointment to the position.

“Everyone — families who are raising children, people here, employers, the philanthropic class— but also other nonprofits really value HopeWorks,” Golderer said in an interview with AL DÍA.

He noted two of HopeWork's strengths: their dedication to their mission, and their effort to collaborate with other organizations; something Golderer sees as unfortunately rare, citing investors treating nonprofits as competitors rather than groups sharing the same goal, dispensing their philanthropic support in favor of their perceived ‘winner.’

Golderer sees that the region is at a turning point. In the face of adversity, it can be easy to lose hope and to decide not to care about the broader issues. But despite this, many of the city’s youth have decided to commit themselves to not giving up, in this case being to join HopeWorks so they can become trained for a job.

“When you stop caring, you're done. There's a lot of reasons that the young people that have summited the HopeWorks curriculum have persevered, have reason to say, 'It doesn't matter, the deck is stacked against me, I have no reason to continue on; I don't care,'” Golderer said in his speech.

In the face of an endless stream of negative news headlines and the aftermath of the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can become easy to turn away from the news to avoid negative content.

To encourage the audience to fight against this sense of hopelessness, Golderer told them that they needed to cultivate friendships so that they don't become disconnected from the events around them.

“Sometimes we get over-indexed about the challenges and we forget about the resources and the resources, start with friendship. They start with the energy that someone can give you when you're feeling depleted, like you feel like you don't have anything left,” Golderer said.

He continued to emphasize the need for a sense of urgency, that making change could not wait for a new mayor or city council member or for any one else to take action first.

“People act in this world like we're going to have forever to make the change that we want to make in Philadelphia, as though we will get to it when we get to it,” he said. “We cannot afford to wait one day because these young people need us to cultivate a sense of urgency; because it is an urgent situation.”

Golderer extended his sense of urgency and compassion to those around him as neighbors and strangers, emphasizing the importance of the community as a whole supporting itself and one another, where neglect of any of it was neglect to all of it.

A Team Player

Sulaiman Rahman, the CEO of DiverseForce, followed Golderer’s speech with one of his own.

Rahman began with a recollection of what children thought happiness was. While many children would depict happiness through sunshine or family members, one child represented it through a bird on a tree in a dark storm.

When asked, that child said that happiness was easy when everything was good, but true happiness would last even in a storm. To Rahman, Rhoton was that bird in the storm, enduring despite the challenges he faced.

“That's the faith that we need... Faith is the substance of things being hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In this city, in order to really accomplish great things, we gotta see a better future,” Rahman said.

“It's very easy to be inundated with everything that's happening here in Kensington, [and] all around our city,” he continued.

What HopeWorks represents is not just the successes of one organization, Rahman explained, but rather the culmination of the support of multiple community organizations coming together to create a pipeline for talent for the city’s youth.

Among their number are groups like DiverseForce; OneTen, an organization with the goal of helping 1 million Black Americans launch their careers within the next decade; and Mastery Charter School, seeking to provide equitable education for youth of color.

“That bachelor barrier has been a barrier for so many people, and many times it's been a debt trap for some. It's been so many reasons why folks could not go through a four-year education,” Rahman said.

“That has been the barrier to family sustaining careers, and traditional corporate [area]... Collectively, with talent developers — like the HopeWorks of the world — with other community organizations, making sure we have a pipeline of talent to create that infrastructure,” he continued.

As the leader of another nonprofit working in Philadelphia, Rahman appreciates the collaborative nature of HopeWorks and their efforts to raise the baseline of training for the city's people.

“We try to create an ecosystem approach, and we know we can't do it all, so we have partners like HopeWorks and others that can be great pipeline partners, or support partners through that continuum of pipeline that we're building,” Rahman described in an interview with AL DÍA.

“Collectively, we're stronger than the sum of our parts. Working together, we can only really begin to tackle the challenges in the city. I would say that HopeWorks and Dan have been one of the most collaborative persons in the sector,” he said.

The right choice

Giving the event's closing remarks was Felicia Rinier, the Executive Director of GreenLight Fund Philadelphia, a branch of the Fund that seeks to invest in local community support programs, or to bring in new programs to the city.

Every year, GreenLight Fund Philadelphia seeks to identify the most pressing issues the city is facing, and who is seeking to solve those problems.

Rinier found HopeWorks’ collaborative efforts as one of the reasons to invest in them, seeing them as a piece of a puzzle they were trying to solve across the city.

“It was in meeting and hearing from their participants that really solidified GreenLight's decision to invest in them,” Rinier said in a speech. 

“They are some of the most impressive young adults that I've met, and they made it very clear that being a part of HopeWorks was really what attributed to their success,” she concluded.

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