Evans & Chambers Technology (EC) is all about solutions. The Washington, D.C.-based information technology firm founded in 2003 develops software for government and commercial enterprises. However, in 2018, several years after EC opened its new office in the historic Shaw neighborhood in 2015, office manager Alice Swan realized the company needed to address an issue.
“EC is located in a HUBZone area and it is [important] to maintain our required HUBZone employee percentage,” Swan said. “This is challenging for a technology-based company.”
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s HUBZone program assists small businesses located in “historically underutilized business zones” in urban and rural communities to “gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities.” HUBZone certification is partially obtained by employing at least 35 percent of employees who live in that HUBZone.
In keeping with EC’s mission of doing its “utmost to be a responsible neighbor and citizen,” Swan found a solution. A social worker by training, she sought to support unemployed parents in D.C. and extended an opportunity for them to be paid, part-time EC employees.
“I was researching innovative ways to keep [our percentage up] rather than contracting companies to hire people for us,” Swan said. “In my ethical opinion, that is not ‘giving back’ to the community — nor [is it] the purpose of the HUBZone program. I started looking into how it could benefit both EC and the community and found that you can pay volunteers who reside in HUBZones to maintain the required percentage. I called Bright Beginnings (BBI) and they were a perfect fit. Many of their parents were already volunteering in the classroom and this program gave them the opportunity to be compensated while doing so.”
Founded in 1990, BBI provides early childhood education programs for children up to five years old at no cost to their families. According to its objective, BBI not only prepares kids from families with low income to be ready for kindergarten, but it also simultaneously, “supports parents in stabilizing their home lives and becoming self-sufficient.” One of BBI’s Volunteer Opportunities allows parents to serve as classroom assistants where they can gain hands-on practice working with children as well as administrative experience. In October 2018, when BBI’s Workforce Development Manager Arthur Darby was presented with Swan’s idea to form the Technology and Community Connecting Hands program (TAACH), he thought it would be the perfect opportunity to enhance the center’s two-generation (2Gen) approach.
“We desire for parents to be able to enhance their workforce development and career development skills while their child is in class,” Darby said. “With this partnership with EC, it helps us to really capture that audience, so the parents are not only coming to volunteer or just coming to use the services that we provide for parents. But they are now able to be paid to come and work in those same areas. It incentivizes the parents to engage in the center.”
For 10 hours a week, parents are paid, $14.00, (D.C.’s current minimum wage) to perform administrative duties, conduct research, assist with health services, among other tasks at one of BBI’s two learning centers. Parents also have the option of pursuing Child Development Associate National Credentialing Program requirements or other professional certifications. Five mothers and three fathers are currently enrolled in the TAACH program. Thirty-one-year-old Kevin Lewis said the TAACH provides him the invaluable opportunity to create a stronger relationship with his two young sons, while also expanding his professional abilities.
“Through Bright Beginnings, [the internship] allows me to build a greater bond and better influence over my children, and that’s the most important thing in the world to me,” Lewis said.
When the single dad is not drafting lesson plans for the entrepreneurship course he co-leads at BBI, he is working towards his barbering license at nearby Ballou High School. The flexible 10 hours lets Lewis juggle his participation in the internship and the workforce development services at BBI without the burden of worrying about childcare.
“I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve developed skills where I can create lesson plans,’” Lewis said. “‘I can do presentations as well,’ and those are skills I didn’t start with. So, I’m hoping that this internship will help develop those skills.”
According to Swan, the TAACH program helped EC founders, Jamil Evans and Andre Chambers, rethink how to partner with nonprofits.
“Jamil grew up in the Shaw district and Andre was raised by a single mom so they wanted to be a part of the community,” Swan said. “When I brought [the idea] to them, it was like a no-brainer.”
The EC team now knows philanthropy is not simply a financial donation, but rather a means for impactful change.
“[TAACH] has become a program that we believe can be utilized by other companies who conduct business in HUBZone areas,” Swan said. “[We] hope to see partnerships similar to the one we have created with BBI.”
The TAACH internship has no end date – meaning parents with unpredictable schedules, like Kevin Lewis, can continue to participate in the program until they are more self-sufficient. EC is also in talks with other IT firms, such as LBO Technology, to adopt this internship model. For the BBI community and the staff at EC, there is no provision that can stop them from building a stronger future for children and their parents. Providing a brighter beginning is the best measure of success.