Hope with Hustle

By Michela Hamm

Well here we are folks, blog post numero dos!

When my boss and Hope Tech founder first asked me to start writing blogs for the website, my thoughts were, to be perfectly honest, pretty generic and a little boring. Topics included sharing about all the great things Hope Tech is doing, plans to do, and other general updates. But as it turns out, Hope Tech’s story has weaved itself into my own. It’s been an unexpected blessing to be challenged myself by the same things I seek to teach our students. So I decided to use this opportunity to share my own journey. I’ve found that personal stories are not only generally more entertaining, but also more powerful. Hope Tech really is about breathing hope into the lives of others. Its breathing life in to mine and into our students. My desire is that by sharing our story that same hope will be passed along to you.

In this blog post, I am going to take a step back and paint a general picture of my new home, Oak Park, and what it has taught me these last 6 months living here.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, hope is something that is severely lacking. The cost of rent has skyrocketed due to recent gentrification, gang violence is stuck in it’s endless cycle, systematic oppression and generational brokenness are the norm. When you walk the streets of Oak Park the hopelessness is almost tangible. For many of the students we interact with, this environment has bred an attitude of apathy. Their city, our world, has not done much to prove to them that positive change is something within their grasp. In fact, it’s convinced them of the exact opposite.

Now, my goal in saying all this is not to create a sense of pity for the neighborhood that I love. Pity is often condescending and projects its own feelings of hopelessness onto another; it will only attempt to alleviate pain, rather than find true healing. I do not pity Oak Park, you see, because I do not fear brokenness. It makes me sad, it makes me angry, but it does not make me fear. Here’s why: It is brokenness itself that plants the seeds for true reflection, humility, honesty, and a quest for justice. These are the very traits needed to spark lasting, positive change. I believe that redemption - the power to take something bad and use it for something good - while rare in our world, is readily accessible. All that’s needed is hope.

These last few months living in Oak Park I have witnessed more humility, honesty, and passion for justice than in any other community I have ever lived in. Residents are committed to fighting for their neighborhood. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting in on a South Oak Park Community Association meeting. In the hour and half I was there I heard about countless programs for the youth, a volunteer day to beautify local parks, urban farming, a non-profit dedicated to providing inexpensive, healthy prepared meals as an alternative to fast food while simultaneously creating jobs for local youth, and more.

My friends in the hood have grit. They know how to hustle, to get what they need in order to survive. I love this, because when you add hope to hustle positive change is inevitable. I do not fear the brokenness in this neighborhood because I have seen its residents respond in hope and hustle. They do not simply see what needs fixing and resign themselves to how things are. In their own way, they have used the Development Cycle (the topic of our last post ADD LINK) to accomplish their goals. They dream about a different reality for Oak Park, develop strategies to solve those problems, and deploy what they’ve found to be successful. While Hope Tech brings a new way to provide mentorship and marketable skills to local youth, there have been people hustling to bring hope to this neighborhood long before we arrived. Those that have come before us provide wonderful partnership and have paved the way for Hope Tech in different ways. It is a privilege for me, as someone new to Oak Park, to be able to participate in the cultivation of positive change. Hope Tech and this hood have restored my hope and inspire me daily.

My friends, Oak Park is an example. It is an example not just of many other broken cities in our world, but also our own lives. How often do we let our hurt and the injustices we suffer breed apathy and defeat in our lives? It’s not that suffering is something light or insignificant. It is extremely significant, but let the greatest meaning in brokenness be the self-reflection, humility, and honesty that is produced rather than apathy. Let us have hope that redemption is real in our world and in our lives. Let brokenness be the catalyst for positive change.

Dream, Develop, Deploy: A Process for Life

By Michela Hamm

This is the story of how a self-identified technologically illiterate and 26 year old “grandma” (yes, that was my nickname in college) ended up working for a non-profit teaching coding to urban youth. The irony is too real, but so have the lessons I’ve been learning along the way. What follows is my journey and series of lessons learned.

In Hope Tech we have what we call an Innovation Challenge in which our students compete to create a game that can be played on a mobile device. Being challenged to invent something can seem like a daunting task, but Hope Tech desires to teach our students that this is an achievement well within their grasp. One of the first things we teach our students in the Innovation Challenge is the Development Cycle, a formula to guide the students in their innovative process.

This formula breaks down the innovation process to 3 basic steps: Dream, Develop, Deploy. The first step in the Development Cycle is to Dream. Dreaming often begins by asking the questions “why?” or “how come…?”, and with a longing to see change. But if we stop at asking the question and never begin to think about how to create a solution, our longing to see change will remain unsatisfied. Therefore, the second step in the innovation process is to develop. Development is the pursuit to find answers to our questions. Development requires research and practice, a building of knowledge and skill. Finally, we deploy. Once we have come up with a possible solution to our problem, we test and make the necessary adjustments, repeating the cycle as necessary.

As any technologically illiterate person would do, I first restricted the significance of this formula to the classroom or lab. It wasn’t until a few months in to working for Hope Tech that I realized how valuable this formula is, not just for our students competing in our innovation challenge, but for me, a woman in her mid 20s still figuring out life. Follow me on a quick detour as I share how I came to value this Development Cycle in my own life:

Nine months ago, I moved to Oak Park, a neighborhood in Sacramento where the “fireworks” aren’t always fireworks and the parks aren’t always used for playing. One day I was playing basketball with my neighbor kids when one of the boys asked me what my favorite sports were. I told him soccer was my main sport growing up. He said, “That was mine too, but then I got passionate about basketball.”

I was thinking about this later and it struck me that his passion, not his skill, was the main factor in determining what he focuses his time and effort on.

Dang, am I the opposite. As a kid, I took to soccer more naturally than basketball, but as I got older my love of basketball grew. However, I never put much effort into getting better at basketball because 1) I’m vertically challenged and 2) my shooting form sucked. Instead of determining to work at it and increase my skill, I surrendered to the idea that putting time and effort into basketball would only lead me to disappointment.

How often do my fears, instead of my passions, determine the choices I make?

This was the question that burned in my mind after talking to this 12 year old boy. I believed a false perspective that says “If I try to do what I want and I fail then it will all be for nothing, leaving me only with discouragement.” This type of thinking assumes, incorrectly, that there is only value or success if I complete my goal.

But the Development Cycle teaches me another, truer perspective, one that finds value in the process of reaching for your goals, not just the attainment of it.

For example, I dream of being able to do a pull up, even just one. I am in the process of developing different muscles by using different weight machines. I should be able to build enough muscle to complete a pull up soon. But what if that never happens? Is it a total loss? No, because in the developing processes I am still getting stronger.

So it is with life. We all have passions and aspirations. If we are brave enough to dream, and even braver to try to make those things a reality, we will develop strength and wisdom along the way that we otherwise would have lacked, even if we did not complete our goal.

This perspective is so important, and here’s why: It weakens the power of fear.

The values that the Development Cycle instills are vital, not just for scientists in lab coats or students in a computer programing class, but for the woman in her 20s trying to figure out life and the newly retired 65 year old who has a bunch of time on his hands. As we realize the value in the process, it frees us to be bold in our creativity and pursue passions we never would have before.