The current events around the country to fight for racial justice, equality, and equity, have shown, like many other moments in history, the degree of injustice that still exists in the United States, and how far we have to go.
This is more than a moment, though — it is a movement that results from hundreds of years of unjust brutality and discrimination — and the movement must continue in a way that is sustinable and addresses the systematic roots of injustice.
In order to maximize the potential impact to support this movement, WillowTree is doubling down on our outreach efforts in our home communities of Charlottesville, VA, Durham, NC, and Columbus, OH with both volunteer and financial support. Our aim is to bridge the digital divide — to help ensure that the diversity of the next generation of technology workforce and leadership reflects that of the population. The technology industry, in particular, has a long way to go in terms of hiring minorities and increasing diversity. To address this, our community outreach efforts start at the root where the digital divide begins: with young people who are underrepresented in the current workforce.
This month, I would like to “pass the mic” to the leaders at WillowTree who have championed our community outreach efforts, and hear from them first-hand about how we can make an impact.
C4K combines mentoring and technology to prepare youth for brighter futures. The organization provides mentoring in a creative, safe, and supportive out-of-school learning environment, access to professional-grade technology, project-based learning, and youth leadership opportunities
Our Team’s Experience
Marissa Peterson is a Travel Specialist at WillowTree. She has been with the company for over two and a half years, playing an integral role in the formation of the company-wide community outreach program.
"Working with C4K has been extremely rewarding in so many ways. Our team sees firsthand how impactful our mission is, and during the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re lucky that we can continue these relationships virtually and support our team members who mentor students at C4K. Preston Brown, a Principal Software Engineer at WillowTree, has been a rockstar and continues to use his platform to give back whenever he can. Justin, a C4K student and Preston’s mentee said it best:
“The impact it’s had on me is, I would say incredible. I’ve learned a lot there; I’ve learned a lot of tech things but I’ve also learned a lot of different experiences there. They support a lot of people and they make good relationships with mentors for these people. Like Preston for example, Preston is my mentor. A lot of the things that I learn here are helpful for my future and what I want to do when I grow up. It’s not even a mentorship, it’s more like a family thing. I consider Preston what I would want to be in the future because he’s very inspiring, he’s so cool, he’s amazing. He’s like a bigger brother that I never had. A lot of these people can help you grow and they nourish the minds of youth across the world. If C4K were everywhere, the world would be a better place. They teach you a lot of real-world experiences as well, being able to speak in front of 300 people is something I never thought I could do before. The amount of overwhelming support that they give you is unfathomable. I love coming here every day because it motivates me to connect with all of these different people with all of these different life experiences to teach me how to impact my own community.”"
Durham: East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI)
EDCI creates a pipeline of high-quality services from birth through high school graduation for children and families living in a 120-block area of East Durham, with a vision to create a future where every child in East Durham successfully graduates from high school, ready for college or a career.
Our Team’s Experience
Darian Smallwood is an office coordinator at WillowTree. She has been with WillowTree a year and half, and has managed community outreach for the Durham office for over a year, leading the community outreach initiative in Durham from its beginning in April 2019.
"I am so thankful for the opportunity to do outreach work through WillowTree. Sometimes you don’t realize the privilege that you have until you come face to face with what the lack of privilege looks like. The biggest one for me was exposure to careers.
As a kid, I knew so many adults with such a variety of careers. Adults pointed out my personality traits and told me what careers I would excel in from a young age. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t realize how much of a privilege that was. Many young kids only see high profile ways to be successful, such as being a teacher, a professional athlete, a doctor, or a police officer, without any other options.
It is so important for us to expose kids to all of the jobs that exist for them in this space. It’s even more important that we explain the soft-skills and personality traits that make us good at these jobs, and what about the job drew us to it.
One of my favorite experiences with EDCI was when a young girl, maybe 9 or 10, was talking to Val Haste, a Technical Requirements Manager (TRM). She asked Val how she worked at WillowTree if she didn’t make apps. Val explained what a TRM is and the soft-skills that make Val so good at her job. As Val walked away, the girl turned to her friend and said, “I think I could be a TRM.” That is so special. That is the impact."
Columbus: The Godman Guild Association
About Godman Guild
Through workforce development and youth programming, the Godman Guild Association provides programs that enhance the social and economic mobility of individuals and families in Central Ohio.
Our Team’s Experience
Rachel Corbett is a Staff Product Architect at WillowTree. She has been with WillowTree for six months, and has played an integral role in selecting and pioneering the community outreach program for the Columbus office.
“Just a few weeks ago, we named a new Community Outreach Partner for our Columbus Office, the Godman Guild Association. We will be working with the TEEN program to create tech-based activities as well as providing homework help and mentoring on a weekly basis during the school year as the students continue to manage virtual learning. The Program Manager, Rudy Frias, has asked WillowTree to lead a coding activity where students can create a personal website to showcase their resumes as they prepare for college and work experiences. Our team is so excited to get started!”
Over the past few months, we’ve spent time reflecting on how we can thoughtfully approach racial injustice in a way that creates the highest possible impact. Addressing the roots of the issue in our own communities will enable us to sustainably support this critical cause, and continue to bridge the digital divide.