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Ricardo Signes: Welcome back to the Digital Citizen podcast. I'm Ricardo Signes, the CTO of Fastmail, email provider of choice for savvy digital citizens everywhere. Here with me is my colleague, Helen Horstmann-Allen.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: Hi, I'm Helen, Fastmail's chief operating officer. Today, Rik will be continuing his conversation with Hopeworks. But in this section he'll be talking with a Hopeworks program graduate, Kayondra Garrison.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: Rik, can you start by giving our listeners a quick refresh about what Hopeworks is?

Ricardo Signes: Hopeworks provides opportunities and pathways for success for youth in Camden, New Jersey, through skill building and job placement. Kayondra Garrison, our guest today, she learned basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript at Hopeworks. And since graduating she's been working with Benefits Data Trust.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: So, what will you two be talking about?

Ricardo Signes: We talked about Kayondra's experience at Hopeworks and the skills that are important for young people to develop when they're under the tech field. We discussed how learning about and building technology can change the relationship that we have with the technology that we use every day. And we talk about what it means to have hope and to overcome fear so that you can find success in your life.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: So, I'm really excited to hear your conversation with Kayondra. When we first talked about having Dan on the show, I thought it would be great to have a Hopeworks program graduate also on it, you know. There's a lot you can say about the theory of why organizations do what they do, but how they impact the people who are a part of them is, you know, where you really find out what it looks like.

Ricardo Signes: Yeah, that's right. It's very easy to say that you do good work and change people's lives, but you want to hear from people whose lives have been changed. Not only to hear that it happened, but to hear what it means to those people and not just, "Yes, it was a change," as described by the operator of the program.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: I also think you end up learning that often what you go in thinking is a big deal maybe isn't the most important takeaway. So, I'll be interested to hear what Kayondra got out of her experience.

Ricardo Signes: Yeah. Well, stick around. And then the end of the episode, we'll talk about some takeaways, things you could actually do to become a better digital citizen. You'll also find those on our website at fastmail.com/digitalcitizen.

Ricardo Signes: Also, if you want to get involved with this season of the show, check out the survey listed in our show notes and send us a question. We'll be randomly choosing some to answer in our end-of-season bonus episode.

Ricardo Signes: Today, we're talking to Kayondra Garrison about Hopeworks. Kayondra's a graduate of the program at Hopeworks. Kayondra, thanks for being here.

Kayondra Garrison: Thank you for having me.

Ricardo Signes: So you are a student at Hopeworks, how would you describe what Hopeworks is?

Kayondra Garrison: I would say that Hopeworks is exactly the title. You come there with hope and you make it work. I would say that it is revolutionary for its time. I think that they were definitely way ahead of what the modern day workplace should look like when it comes down to everything as far as helping people connect the dots, helping people with motivation and drive and really anything and everything under the sun. Honestly, Hopeworks does a little bit of everything.

Ricardo Signes: So, you were a student at Hopeworks. What are you doing now?

Kayondra Garrison: Currently, I work a remote job as a benefits outreach specialist. I help people in the state of PA, so technically I work in PA, but I work from home. And I help them apply for public benefits, like grant rebates or home study exemptions, and food stamps, and cash assistance, a whole list of things. That's what I'm doing now, king of helping people in a different way.

Ricardo Signes: How was it that your time at Hopeworks led you to land this job?

Kayondra Garrison: I started at Hopeworks in a 2019. I was 19 years old, so I'm 22 now. I was 19 and I started at Hopeworks through recommendation of a friend. So, my best friend actually is an alumni of Hopeworks as well. And she told me about the program and I came there. And once I came there, I was over overwhelmed with positive energy and genuine care, I feel like. And so I was there for a couple of months, but I didn't really see the opportunity because, like I said, I was 19. I didn't really see the opportunity as clearly as I saw it now.

Kayondra Garrison: So, I did leave the program for a few months and then I came back. I've completed my training in two weeks and then I ended up with an internship. I worked in a training room assisting other young people to get through the training. I worked there, I think for about seven months. I also graduated from Hopeworks. I got my high school diploma at Hopeworks, that was January 2021. And then I felt like I killed that internship. I love that my internship job. That was my dream job, if any.

Kayondra Garrison: After I got my high school diploma that made me eligible to apply for something on what we call the Opportunity Board. So, the Opportunity Board is a list full of jobs that Hopeworks may know someone in or they just may know that the job is open and they're looking for young people and they came to us. So they'll put it on the opportunity board and we get to apply for it. This particular job, I applied for it, and I got the job in April of 2021.

Kayondra Garrison: And, yeah, I've been working actually at what we know as the Cohen Center, which is an alumni center. So once you graduate the program to keep the family together I call it, we have a center now. Alumni could come there and they can work on entrepreneurship things or in my case, full-time job and whatever else, if they need to look for jobs, update their resume. So those are all things that can be done at the Cohen Center that I actually work at now. And I've been working there for about a year now.

Ricardo Signes: In your time at Hopeworks as a student, what do you think were the most important things that you learned?

Kayondra Garrison: That is a great question. I would say that some of the most important things I learned at Hopeworks was if you don't succeed the first time, try again. I learned that there are people that can meet you in a professional atmosphere and also genuinely care about you. I also learned what it means to work hard on a daily basis. And I actually learned that through Dan, like watching Dan work every day. Dan is literally the first person there and the last person out every day. I learned that through watching him and some of our other staff work very hard.

Kayondra Garrison: I learned that positivity goes a long way and that you should be able to talk about your feelings in a workplace, in a productive manner. Yeah, I learned a lot.

Ricardo Signes: The skills you listed, which by the way, are all really valuable skills to learn especially early in your career. They're life skills, they're skills for interacting with your workplace and understanding what kind of person to be there. And I wonder, is that what you expected going into Hopeworks? Did you expect to pick up a bunch of technical skills and you came out saying, "Well, the real lesson is how to behave, how to understand what my job is about." What did you expect and what did you find most surprising?

Kayondra Garrison: Okay. So I would say that I expected, truthfully, I expected it to be an empty opportunity. Most of the time people will tell you like, "Oh, like, go here. They'll help you," or you know, something like that. And the whole time, you go to the place where they told you to go and you get shuffled around or, like, cast to the side at times. So, I had no expectations when I came to Hopeworks. The whole thing was shaping right in front of me. I'll say that I did get the technical side. But for me, my Hopeworks journey and Hopeworks journey is a lot different because we all specialize in different things.

Kayondra Garrison: Me, I am a motivational speaker, so I specialize in the soft skills, interacting with young people, things like that. That's kind of my specialty. So once I got my internship, that worked well for me. But do I know how to create a website? Yes, and I've created several websites. So, I do know how to do all the technical side of it. I just focus more so on the soft skills because that's where my strengths are.

Ricardo Signes: You mentioned being a motivational speaker. What is it that you want to be able to motivate people to do? What's the motivation you want to give people?

Kayondra Garrison: I want people to succeed in whatever way that it's succeeding for them, because everyone's idea of success looks different. I want people to conquer their fears. So, I want to throw this thing out there, too. One of my main things that I say to people, and one of the things that I learned is that fear is only false evidence appearing real. And you can apply that to any part of your life in any scenario.

Kayondra Garrison: If you're afraid of the dark, why are you afraid of the dark? Because you feel like there's something there, but it's not there. You know what I mean? So It's like things like that. I just want people to succeed in whatever makes them happy.

Ricardo Signes: What do you think it is that people need to succeed more than anything else? Like, is it overcoming fear?

Kayondra Garrison: I would say the first step is overcoming fear, first step. Because I feel like there are opportunities everywhere, although they may be hard to find. Opportunities are everywhere and you have to eliminate the fear that comes with trying new things first.

Ricardo Signes: When you talk about the various things that you did or that somebody can learn at Hopeworks, what do you think you learned that you think everybody should be learning?

Kayondra Garrison: Well, number one, I think that everyone should know how to code their own website. Not that it was easy-peasy to learn, but it wasn't rocket science either. So, I think that would be a good first step for people to gain our own independence. I think that we should start making our own websites and maybe even creating our own social media sites and things like that.

Kayondra Garrison: I also think presentation skills, time management, connecting with various types of people and various types of settings, networking. Those were all things that I felt like were key to my success going forward.

Ricardo Signes: One thing I think about a lot is the different ways that people think about this technology, right? You say we should make our own websites. And some of this is a question of empowerment, right? That you have the ability to make the thing that you want to represent you. You understand that's something you can build. And when we only know how to interact with something, how to use what we've been given, we have a different relationship with the technology.

Kayondra Garrison: Right.

Ricardo Signes: Do you think you've ended up with a different relationship with the technology that you still use every day as a result of learning about how some of it's built?

Kayondra Garrison: I would say so. I would say that it's really... And it's not so much as necessarily interacting because I still honestly do the most part, the same thing, scrolling and looking, but-

Ricardo Signes: Same.

Kayondra Garrison: ... I realize the coding behind certain things and I'll look at websites a lot differently when I'm looking at the structure of it, the layouts and, "Oh, that button looks funny, or that button doesn't work," certain things I can point out now that the average eye would just skip over.

Ricardo Signes: So finally, this show is Digital Citizen. And one thing we're always thinking about is how can we be better digital citizens? And that might mean taking more responsibility for how we engage with the online world. It might mean helping other people stay safe, or it might mean trying to build a better online culture. What's the advice you would give to people who want to be better digital citizens?

Kayondra Garrison: I want people to live in the real world a lot more. I think that people should take what's being said on social media a lot more lighter. Like, you know what I mean, like I think that social media should be like a secondary type of mind. Like, I feel like people are stuck in the social media kind of thing, you know?

Ricardo Signes: Yeah.

Kayondra Garrison: People are going to be who they're going to be. We have all different kinds of people in this world. We have good people, bad people. We have funny people, not funny people. People trying to be funny. We have all different kinds of people in the world. No one's going to be able to censor everyone and I, we all shouldn't actually want that. So I think that people should just take a step back from that and focus on, you know, real life. And as far as creating things digitally, you can do that and not be a part of the whole circus.

Ricardo Signes: Well, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Kayondra Garrison. It was a great point she made at the end about stepping away from your social media if you feel the need to. Is that a practice you've had to or chosen to engage in, Helen?

Helen Horstmann-Allen: I mean, Rik, you know what it is. We were talking just the other day about a change I made from one of our very earliest episodes of BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits episode of, instead of looking at my phone first thing in the morning and see what was happening on social media, picking up my book instead. And I told you that I have a graph that shows my pages read, and you can see when I made that decision because all of a sudden my page count starts to steadily climb every day. That made me feel good. I definitely got more reading done last year and this year. And I don't start the day with that kind of heap of dread first thing in the morning.

Ricardo Signes: Yeah, I think that sounds great. I think that when we talk about digital citizenship, one of the aspects we talk about is responsibility to yourself, right? Being a safe participant in everything that comes with having this massively connected society surrounding you.

Ricardo Signes: And one thing you can do is to think about the way you're consuming that and cut off the things that are harmful, or take them in moderation. I think that you maybe have had more success with that in the past year than I have, but it remains a work in progress and I look forward to deleting more accounts and more things from my phone that do not enrich my life in any way.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: Well, hopefully we get to remind people on a regular basis that they can take these steps to enrich their lives. So, from that, what do you think the key takeaways for today's conversation were?

Ricardo Signes: Well, we can start with sometimes it's important to take a step back from social media and focus on living in the moment.

Ricardo Signes: Beyond that, don't undervalue interpersonal skills. If you want to succeed even in tech, it's not just technical skills that lead you toward that success. Really, building a strong foundation for interpersonal skills and for dealing with other people, and your own emotions in life is a huge part of making yourself employable, and also successful in the current job market.

Ricardo Signes: And finally, overcoming the fear that something isn't going to work out or that you're not going to be good at something. That's the first step towards making a real change in your life. If you're afraid that you're not going to succeed so you don't try, you're obviously not going to succeed. You have to overcome these fears and take real action to make change in your life. So that's the first step.

Helen Horstmann-Allen: Well, we hope you learn something new today and got inspired towards better digital citizenship. We'll be back in two weeks with a new guest. So subscribe if you want to keep up with our show.