Sustainable Employment at the Bread Project

Sustainable Employment at the Bread Project

By Tamara Straus

What does it take to help hard-to-employ people in the Bay Area find steady, decently paying jobs? According to Veronica Barron Villegas ’18, a Global Poverty & Practice graduate who works at The Bread Project, it requires receptive employers, well trained employees, and lots of follow up.

Founded in 2000 by Lucie Buchbinder, a homeless advocate and Holocaust survivor, and Susan Phillips, a social worker involved in affordable housing, The Bread Project is known within employment development circles for its model of targeted persistence, which includes a rigorous bakery training program, extensive workplace readiness coaching, on-the-job experience, employer outreach for job placement, and long-term follow-up support. Eighteen years ago, Buchbinder and Phillips acted on a hunch. They knew that the baking industry paid above minimum wage and offered a career ladder. With this in mind, they approached Michael Suas of the San Francisco Baking Institute, who agreed to train their low-income clients and provided space and equipment for classes at cost.

Since that time, the Berkeley nonprofit has trained 1,800 individuals for the baking sector through dozens of partnerships with Bay Area chefs like Mark Chacon, agencies like the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development, and employers such as Whole Foods and Semifreddis. Trainings are long by comparative standards: three to four weeks. And follow-up services are beyond the standard: 15 months, which include six rounds of job search assistance and career counseling.

The results for a small nonprofit are extraordinary—averaging an employment rate of 83 percent, a graduation rate of 85 percent, and a job retention rate of 80 percent.

Trent Cooper, The Bread Project’s Program Manager, believes the high employment rates stem from the high-touch training and post-graduation services. “If you see our boot camps, you see how closely we interact with each student. Upon graduation, we provide 15 months of follow-up services, with outreach at one, three, six, nine, 12, and 15 months. This is time consuming and expensive, but we’re able to help participants longer.”

The Bread Project serves people who are the first to get turned down by employers—immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, formerly incarcerated individuals, and people with disabilities as well as those with employment barriers due to language, addiction, unstable housing, and childcare. In 2017-2018, 79 percent of participants relied on public benefits, 21 percent had zero income coming into the program, 100 percent were low income, and the participant pool was 61 percent female and 32 percent male. Most trainees come from Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond. And many lack independent housing and are dependent on public housing, friends, family, shelters, or transitional lodging.

Foundation grants, individual and corporate donations, and city funding keep The Bread Project afloat as well as a well-honed social enterprise model. Its University Avenue kitchen produces sweet potato buns for the high-end San Francisco restaurant International Smoke and mixes up about 3,000 pounds of cookie dough per week for DOUGHP. There’s also a food business incubator program; The Bread Project focuses on renting out its kitchen to minority-run businesses. All of this pays for the cost of the long boot camps, from which about 120 people graduate annually.

To support nine low-income Berkeley residents pass through the training program, UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund recently awarded The Bread Project a grant. The project, in collaboration with the Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice (GPP) minor, aims to strengthen the university’s ties to the City of Berkeley through employment development opportunities and engages GPP student interns in poverty alleviation work.

Jasmine Tsui, a UC Berkeley global health major and Global Poverty & Practice minor, said her summer internship at The Bread Project has given her a front seat row to the Bay Area’s widening income gap. “I’ve seen what it means to be looking for a job and have no computer to do job research and applications. Employment barriers like those are real, but The Bread Project is surmounting them through a range of supports.”

Global Poverty & Practice Students Jasmine Tsui and Emily Lui at The Bread Project in Berkeley.

Tsui, who has been working closing with Barron Villegas, The Bread Project’s employment and graduate services manager, has been on the phone with graduates for much of her summer internship. “I’ll call graduates five, six times,” said Tsui. “I’ll leave messages, emails, and texts, and once I get them on the phone, I ask them how they are, if they need a job, and make an appointment to come in right there.”

Tsui’s summer internship colleague, Emily Lui, a UC Berkeley economics major and Global Poverty & Practice minor, also has been impressed by the personalized services. “There’s a lot of emphasis on trying to find people who graduate from the program a job—and a job they actually want. Earlier this month, there was a hiring event where different reps from different Whole Foods came in and did onsite interviews.”

Barron Villegas, who like Lui and Tsui got her start at The Bread Project as a GPP intern, said she is currently developing and strengthening employer partnerships with Noah’s Bagels and High Flying Foods.

“The reason The Bread Project has the outcomes it does is because we build relationships with both employers and job seekers,” said Barron. “Our clients walk away with a specific skill set and into a more specific job market. They learn interview skills, resume writing skills, and other job readiness skills. They also earn a ServeSafe certificate from the State of California. Employers want all of that.”



Hackathons for Good?

Hackathons for Good?

By Veena Narashiman ’2020

Participants at Enable-Tech’s Make-A-Thon collaborating with “Need-Knowers”

Originally a portmanteau of the words hack and marathon, a hackathon typically occurs over a day or two, bringing together computer programmers and others to solve a puzzle or invent a creative solution. During these 24- to 48-hour periods, participants are encouraged to form groups and collaborate, completing the hackathon with a rough prototype or ideas that can be presented to judges for prize money. Over the years, the adrenaline rush that often drives these competitions have created some famous “hacks”: the messaging app GroupMe and the Facebook “Like” button were both conceived during hackathons.

Although hackathons may feel new, they are nearing their twentieth anniversary. The concept was born in June 1999, when UC Berkeley alumni John Gage challenged attendees of a Sun Microsystems event to write a multi-user Internet program in Java for the Palm V. Almost two decades later, hackathons have been organized to advance all manner of technologies in practically every sector. And increasingly, hackathons have been launched to solve societal challenges, such as natural disaster preparedness and government transparency.

Kyelo Torres and his team proposing ideas for their wearable technology.

But are “hackathons for good” really effective, given that rapid prototyping is rarely a fix for entrenched societal problems? For technologists like Luca Ibota, a former Apple employee who has been active in many hackathons for good, the most important aspect is “identifying the problem you have and the ideal outcome you want.” In fact, said Ibota, the key to a successful hackathon for good is “precisely defining a problem or challenge.”

Kyelo Torres models a design at the Make-A-Thon.

Still, some Cal students are skeptical about hackathons for good. The most cynical argue that incorporating buzz words such as “social impact” and “corporate social responsibility” at hackathons is a smart public relations move for technology companies looking to improve their public standing. Other Cal students insist that incorporating social good goals in hackathons is a testament to Silicon Valley’s aim to think more holistically and ethically about technology’s effects.

For many, UC Berkeley hackathons that take on a social impact lens are seen as a reflecting a student culture that prioritizes hands-on learning and that seeks to solve grand challenges like climate change and food insecurity. For Swetha Prabhakaran, a UC Berkeley sophomore and computer science student, the 21st century requires companies, nonprofits, and individuals to make solutions to intractable problems a priority.

Either way, the number of UC Berkeley hackathons focused on social impact is on the rise. Causes have ranged from building prosthetics for people with disabilities to developing apps that enable students to source fair trade goods. Student-run organizations have championed these hackathons as a way to ethically fill consumer gaps.

In April 2018, a partnership between the Sutardja Dai Center for Entrepreneurship and the UC Regents Chancellor’s Association hosted Cal Innovates, a hackathon aimed to bridge the engineering and business disciplines. Prabhakaran, who organized the event, said attendance was high because engineering and business students have started to “soul search” for meaningful impact. “Berkeley students have a strong entrepreneurial spirit—you can see it everyday,” said Prabhakaran. “But conversations about using business to help others are happening on small scale. The hackathon is a way to help students do this on a bigger scale.”

Students hacking at Cal Innovates

The Cal Innovates hackathon presented no strict problem to solve. It allowed participants—of which 40 to 50 percent were engineering majors and 30 to 40 percent were from the Haas School of Business—to build and plan deployment of prototypes. During the competition, participants listened to speakers or pursued their project with the help of guides. Professionals from SkyDeck, Cal’s startup accelerator, helped students with presentations and judged the finals, while employees of GoDaddy and students from BlockChain at Berkeley helped participants with technical aspects of their designs. Finalists included a project for civil engineers in developing countries to create sustainable bridges.

A student team at work at Cal Innovates.

Another example of a UC Berkeley hackathon geared toward positive social impact was EnableTech’s “Make-A-Thon.” Held in April 2018, it aimed to connect those building prosthetics with those who use them, per the club’s motto: “Build with them, not for them.” Spanning 48 hours, the event allowed participants, formed into groups of six people from different majors, to rank which of EnableTech’s active projects should be improved. Kyelo Torres, a rising senior in mechanical engineering and the event project leader, spoke of the hackathon’s purpose: “As students, we are taught only theories. The second we are asked to do something, we get lost. The idea of hackathons is to practice the real world aspect of things.”

Amy Dinh, programs manager of the Jacobs Institute for Design Management, said she believes the reason for the uptick in hackathons with a social good emphasis is simple: “People seek a challenge, and there’s nothing more challenging than the wicked problems of the world.” Yet she dissuades students from expecting implementable solutions post-hackathon, highlighting instead the importance of the iterative process. “The point of a hackathon is to get creative juices to flow,” she said. “It’s not realistic for the ideas to be polished; rather the point is to kickstart a new team or idea.”

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Host Organizations

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Berkeley Program Director​

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Student Fellows

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