The Hoboken Housing Authority has partnered with local non-profits and with City Hall to teach adults about computer coding, and to teach teens about artistic expression and the environment.
An organization called CODE IT is teaching a computer programming language called Python for adults aged 18-39 who live in the HHA projects.
Another group, Artis Love +Action, is teaching how to express social issues through various artistic media. The results will be shown at Mile Square Theater in August.
At the same time, Leo Pellegrini, director of environmental services for the city, has established a summer work program for Hoboken high schoolers to help with various citywide green infrastructure projects.
The Hoboken Housing Authority is the agency that oversees the federally funded low-income and senior buildings on the west side of town.
HHA Executive Director Marc Recko said, “I’ve been the director of the Housing Authority for about 18 months now, and there wasn’t much going on. A community like ours is so much more than brick and mortar. Residents need activities and job training and support. We are fortunate that a number of non-profits have been committed to working with our residents.”
Software engineering and other job skills
“We just graduated our first class of students,” said CODE IT Executive Director Da’Shone Hughey.
The 13-week program uses a combination of lectures, hands-on workshops, and projects to teach programming. According to Hughey, the program also teaches financial planning and resume writing, and students leave with a LinkedIn account.
“By the time students graduate from CODE IT, they will have a minimum of three projects in their software engineering portfolio,” said Hughey.
The free program takes students between 18 and 39 years of age “who are committed to reinventing themselves and taking ownership of their future.”
“You may not have gone to a private school or gotten a high school diploma, but just because you live in the Hoboken Housing Authority doesn’t mean you can’t learn,” said Hughey. “We want to help focused people get out of the cycle of poverty and better themselves.”
The course meets in a community room in 311 Harrison St. and accepts 12 students each round with a goal of about 40 students each year.
“If you aren’t coming to class and you don’t show up, if you are not committed, we will remove you and give your spot to someone else on the waiting list,” said Hughey.
Jalen Edward Miles, a 22-year-old resident of the Hoboken Housing Authority, just graduated from the course.
“I’ve always been semi-interested in computers,” he said. “This course has been very influential. I started the program and now I’ve been motivated. I got a job and I actually just got my high school diploma a couple of days ago. I learned how to think smarter and more effectively. A lot of it is just math and common sense.”
Hughey said, “We are actually trying to raise funds so that we can offer a stipend to the students who attend, and if you are late, we dock you $5 for every minute you miss. We want our students to take this seriously. This is work. This is their job.”
Hughey said the group hopes to raise about $300,000 through a GoFundMe page and an upcoming fundraiser that’s being planned.
“We are doing good work but we are running on fumes. We need help,” said Hughey.
Hughey said he got a call on Monday from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will send Community Information Officer Johnson Joy to observe the course and speak to the students.
A camp for self-expression
Artis Love +Action is a New York City based non-profit started by Hoboken resident Namibia Donadio who will bring her program to her hometown for a two-week camp starting July 31 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The camp, for 20 children aged 12 to 18, aims to create a platform of artistic expression for Housing Authority residents.
“I think art is an equalizer,” said Donadio. “I think the ability to think critically about your world in a place where you can express those thoughts freely is truly amazing.”
The two-week camp will utilize theater, photography, poetry, and chorus, for this expression.
“This is a social awareness program where the point is to create pieces that express what they think about the world around them and how to impact the now, their present,” said Donadio.
So far the free camp already has seven students signed up. All of them had to complete an application answering questions about how they feel about their world, impacting their everyday lives.
“Some said they feel there is no togetherness in the community, others said they wish to beautify the area around them, some had concerns with pollution, or needing more youth activities, and others said they wished they could change where they lived,” said Donadio.
The camp will end with a showcase at the Mile Square Theater.
“We are inviting the community to come and attend and hear what they have to say through their own words,” said Donadio.
“I don’t hope to create or help the next generation of artists, I hope to help young people remember their power and give them the opportunity to reconnect their identities with their community and families and help give them the language and medium to express themselves,” said Donadio.
According to Donadio the program will utilize donated materials, space at the housing authority, and professional artists who have donated their time to teach. But Donadio is still looking to raise about $15,000 to help provide the artists with a stipend and offset some of their costs.
To apply for the camp, go to https://www.facebook.com/ARTisLoveandAction/
To donate to Artis Love + Action go to https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=15588.
Green infrastructure training
The summer green infrastructure programming for high school aged students has finished its second week, according to Pellegrini.
Residents discussed such a program in February after a teen resident of the Hoboken housing authority was killed in his home, allegedly by acquaintances from Jersey City. Residents at the time said there were not enough programs for youths.
The five-week program ends Aug. 10 and will train 48 high school aged students on green infrastructure and broader life skills such as mock interviews and financial planning.
“We took people with no regard of their past job experience,” said Pellegrini. “We were hoping for about 50 people to participate, but when we were doing the application process we had about 72 who were initially interested and have 48 who are now in the program.”
Pellegrini said, “They are showing up and learning about green infrastructure and how to maintain bio swells and rain gardens, but we also have several seminars for them on resume writing and financial literacy.”
The teens work 20 hours a week four days a week and get paid $8.50 per hour.
16 year-old resident Iris McGowan said, “We’ve learned a lot about how to change the environment and take care of it… We are trying to make things better. If we don’t take care of it no one else would. I actually have like a biology class tomorrow where they will teach us about flooding and stuff.”
Shakea Coleman of the Housing Authority, said “We are trying to help clean up and better the community. We are working all over Hoboken picking up trash and weeding.”
“I think it’s important they learn about green infrastructure and the impact storms have on Hoboken,” said Pellegrini. “It allows them to have a better understanding of how their area is affected and protected.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com