A Code for Employment
Program offers job training, placement in Mid-Market
| By Tony Taylor |
In an effort to clean up what he calls the “creative economy” of the Tenderloin streets, former-addict-turned-entrepreneur Del Seymour has created a community program that is gaining traction less than a year into its conception.
Seymour, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood who has been called “the Mayor of the Tenderloin,” says he is tired of police cleaning people off the streets. He values community safety and has set his sights on getting the young “street vendors” into jobs, one at a time.
“Send human resources—don’t send the police,” he says. “The reason they’re on the corners doing this creative economy is because they need pampers and rent. … I don’t know why people at City Hall haven’t figured it out.”
With the backing of Twitter and St. Anthony’s Foundation, Seymour has been able, with sponsorship from a 501(c)3 partner, to create a jobs program that acts as a bridge between unemployed residents of the area and the tech community. Code Tenderloin, as it is called, partners job-seeking community members with entry-level positions in the tech industry and local businesses like Dolby and Equator Coffee.
The program started in September and offers a unique curriculum of job education, technical skills, resume writing, and one-on-one mentorship. Transportation costs to interviews are provided as needed. Code Tenderloin is run entirely by volunteers. Some funding is generated through Tenderloin Walking Tours, Seymour’s guided neighborhood tour.
“I get paid when I get the call that says ‘I got the job,’” Seymour said. “I’m overpaid right now.” Twenty-nine of the students who graduated have been placed into employment since the program’s beginning.
St. Anthony’s, one of Code Tenderloin’s biggest recruiters, refers potential students and offers clothing. The Lending Club, another partner, hires students for customer service positions. Previous graduates have successfully been hired at big companies as security guards, cooks and receptionists, says Code Tenderloin Program Coordinator Natalie Perales. “I teach them soft skills like interviewing and how to present themselves,” she said.
On April 11, Code Tenderloin held its second graduation ceremony at Pianofight, a neighborhood bar and restaurant that hosts the program’s training sessions. After completing the four-week job readiness program students are awarded for their skill-growth.
Graduate Tiffany McClendon was hired at Cala, a high-end Mexican restaurant near Civic Center, where she works five days a week and has full health benefits. “I basically had the job when I interviewed,” McClendon said. “I just had to go in and be the person they said I was.”
The program also helped McClendon and her nine-month-old daughter, Emily, secure an apartment. “I am ecstatic. This is the first time I’ve ever had my name on my own lease,” McClendon said. “I’m 40 years old and I’ve never had my own.”
But even with its success stories, funding remains a constant priority. Code Tenderloin has an Indie Go-Go campaign starting in May that aims to earn $100,000, and the organization’s initial Kiva Zip loan for $5,000 was the fastest Kiva loan ever funded. In early April, Code Tenderloin also pitched the vision of their organization to the Mid-Market Business Association and Silicon Valley Bank at the WeWork building on 25 Taylor St. in an effort to gain financial support.
“I have been pounding the pavement at job fairs and walking into businesses,” says Neil Shah, the program’s community engagement developer and employment specialist, who joined Code Tenderloin in February. He said he is currently focused on developing a wider network of employers and investors.
“I feel personally connected,” he added. “We built about 20 partnerships in the past [two months]. From Glide to Series A-funded startups, foundations and institutional-corporate, philanthropic, high-net-worth individuals.”
The Salvation Army is one such partner. Program Director Sandra Ally says while there are limited resources available to the community, the Salvation Army does its best to offer case management to help people get stable, as well as programs for veterans, emancipated foster youth and the transgender community.
“It’s a tough time and people of the Tenderloin need any type of opportunity to get them into something better,” Ally said. “Code Tenderloin is exactly what we’re looking for to be able to link our clients to.”
Many of the graduates were missing from the ceremony. “This [graduation] was the most special because of the job placements and the fact that people can’t be here because they’re working,” said Shah of his first gradation ceremony with the program. “The number one thing is to get people off the street and into work.”
Twitter, a Code Tenderloin seed funder since the beginning, has been involved with financial, emotional and psychological support for low-income families. Caroline Barlerin, who is responsible for Twitter’s community outreach and philanthropy, said they helped celebrate the program’s first graduation and have participated in the workshops.
“We get them an education to overcome their barriers of the past,” Barlerin said.
Beyond basic work, Shah’s goal for Code Tenderloin is to get their students into middle-skill jobs within the next six months to a year.
“High-end grocery stores will get you out of a shelter and into an SRO,” he said. “We want to get them that coding job. That’s where the partnership with Tech SF comes in.”
Tech SF, which works with underemployed professionals, says they are teaming with Code Tenderloin to run their coding program in coordination with the online coding school Hack Reactor. The “Introduction to Coding” bootcamp will be a five-week, 60-hour course.
“[We] will be helping to organize and manage the coding classes,” said Matthew McCabe of Tech SF. “Once students go through the first phase of the program, they have the option to continue on and do actual coding classes to get a certification and get an entry-level position in tech.”
In addition to financial support, Code Tenderloin needs more job opportunities and Seymour is encouraging local businesses to get involved.
“We are solving family problems by just hiring one person. Come down and get one person and hang with them, mentor them,” Seymour said. “Fall when they fall. Get back up when they get back up. If one person is prospering, then everybody is prospering and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
To conclude the graduation, Code Tenderloin had a surprise for one student. Alonzo Fluker came to the program in hopes of finding a job. During a training session he mentioned his need for a laptop to the mentor.
“He’s 54 years old and his life will change tomorrow,” Seymour announced as he presented Fluker with a laptop computer.
Fluker was moved to tears. “I’m going to make a difference, you can bet that,” he said. “I’m not a saint, but I’m not a bad person. I got a lot of good in me and this will bring it out even more. I can’t wait until tomorrow. My grandkids are going to be so happy.”
“This is overwhelming.” Seymour said of the surprise. “I’ve known that guy for 20 years and he’s been trying to get off the corner. Now he’ll be able to get his employment skills up. He knows nothing about a computer and St Anthony’s Tech Lab will help him.”
Code Tenderloin’s next training course will begin in June.