We are ecstatic to announce that Hopeworks Web Team Member, Brakeem also known as Keem is moving on to a full-time position as a GIS Contractor with our long time partner American Water! Keem has battled through adversity and doubt on his path to get here, but has always stayed the course. He credits the Hopeworks staff and community for never giving up on him even when he felt the pressure to do so.

I’m very thankful for the Hopeworks staff, they’ve helped me prepare for this new job by not giving up on me and continuing to work with me throughout my time as a trainee and Web Intern.” 

Last year, Keem lost a very close friend who he grew up with in foster care. He dealt with this tragedy along with social, financial and professional pressure, but somehow continued to persevere. Stories like this just show the will and tenacity of our young professionals here at Hopeworks. With countless odds stacked against you, at times it can be difficult to see the bright side. But they continue showing up every day, continue trusting the process, and continue working hard and it shows. 

“I had a friend who passed last year who would always say “If it’s meant to be then it’s up to me”,  so I always remember that wherever I go in a job setting or anything related to life.”

A huge congratulations is in order for former Training Room Intern Tony Morales who recently joined the GIS Team! Tony will be a GIS Team lead working with clients such as American Water, Comcast and more. 

Everyone who knows, or has interacted with Tony can say how much he embodies the spirit of Hopeworks with his enthusiasm, passion, and care for others.

Tony’s day-to-day responsibilities will consist of supporting the operations of the GIS department by entering and managing data along with keeping track of interns by monitoring their attendance, daily quotas, and conducting supervisions to ensure job-readiness. 

Tony says that the support and belief of Hopeworks has been paramount to his growth and development.

“When I initially received my offer letter, shock flowed through my body. I had reminisced about everything I’ve learned and experienced, and to see that Hopeworks believed enough in me to offer me a permanent position was mesmerizing. My Hopeworks journey refined valuable skills I possessed, such as project management and software usage. These skills will help with my transition to becoming a full-time staff member at Hopeworks.”

Earlier this month, our GIS Team attended the 2022 ESRI User Conference in San Diego, CA and was awarded the Special Achievement in GIS Education Award! 

Our GIS team has provided consistent, quality, work for years to huge clients such as American Water and Comcast. Receiving this award just shows that their hard work has not gone unnoticed and is appreciated by other industry leaders.

“Hopeworks is honored to receive the Special Achievement in GIS Award from Esri at this year’s conference in recognition of our groundbreaking work in using and providing GIS data to create new and more data-driven decisions for businesses,” said Luis Olivieri, the Hopeworks GIS team manager.

Congratulations to all GIS Team managers, leads, and interns! We know there will be more awards to come in the future.

This month, Hopeworks added another alumni to our team, inviting the amazing Zamir Williams to join the GIS Team as a GIS Team Lead!

In this new role, Zamir will work with the interns from the GIS Program to assure the timely completion of development and GIS maintenance projects and that the project meets the standards (QA/QC) established by the customer. Zamir will also assist in organizing the workflow and ensuring that the GIS interns understand their duties, and providing training and guidance for interns as they build their skills.

Zamir is a perfect fit for this position. Coming to Hopeworks from PowerCorps PHL, Zamir’s experience as an Assistant Crew Leader prepared him well to take the lead in supervision here at Hopeworks.

For Zamir, this new chapter in his life is an exciting one. As Zamir shared, “Every human being has genius-level talent. There are no chosen ones. You just have to find what you are great at and tap into it”-Jay-Z.

The Hopeworks Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team is on a roll! It has landed several large contracts in recent months, added staff by hiring a temporary project manager, and opened many new opportunities for young adults to build skills in geographic information system technology.

One of these contracts allows the GIS team to expand the scope of its work with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA), and take on two new projects. Each will have an impact not only on the 1.1 million acres Pinelands National Reserve, but also the  400,000_+ people who live within its boundaries, plus millions more who live nearby and look to the Reserve for  recreational, ecological, and cultural activities.

 Initially, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance reached out to Hopeworks GIS team and Disability Rights NJ to help with an initiative to make the hiking, swimming, camping, and other attractions in the Pinelands more accessible to individuals with disabilities. One challenge that presents itself to people with disabilities: simply getting there. Sight-impaired people who use ride services like Uber and Lyft can’t reach the trails to hike, for instance, because there are no addresses associated with the trails. Others who are sight-impaired and who can walk the trails with the help of guide dogs, said in public hearings that they also need information on what to expect on any particular trail. One way the GIS team is responding is by creating Google views of the trails, similar to the Google “street view” technology familiar to many. GIS technology is perfect for this, because it connects data to a map, not only showing where things are, but also describing what those things are like. Google views of the trails gives visual information that sighted individuals can use to describe to sight-impaired individuals what they can expect to encounter on each trail. 

Luis Olivieri, GIS Director for Hopeworks, said the accessibility project will be ongoing through May. He noted that one hidden benefit of the project for Hopeworks young professionals is that it has gotten them out into nature and introduced them to the wonders of the Pine Barrens.

More recently, thanks to a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance contracted with the Hopeworks GIS Team to undertake two additional projects. In one project, the GIS Team will help the PPA get a better handle on human diversity in the 56 municipalities connected with the preserve. (These communities span Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, and Cape May counties,  plus a small part of Cumberland.County.) In the second project, the GIS team will survey the location of farms in the area, and provide information on the type of crops grown on the farms. The information will be useful for all the agencies involved in regional planning.


In other news, the Hopeworks GIS team has also taken on a major project with Virginia American Water that will help the company comply with environmental mandates. The multi-layer project is so large, Olivieri has had to expand the team beyond full-time staffer Leaundra McCullough, to ten more workers. Among them is Carlos “CJ” Pagan, who has been hired as a temporary project team leader. The project will conclude by year's end.

In this project, Hopeworks will scan more than 48,000 engineering drawings of the water system, and will enter the information into a database. That data will eventually become part of a geographical information system (GIS).The project will provide meaningful and instantly accessible information to VA American Water’s management and its field personnel. 

At the project’s conclusion, VA American Water will have a better understanding of its system. For instance, company personnel will know where they have lead in their pipes. The company will also have much more comprehensive information on the “last part of their (underground) system,” says Olivieri, the part between the utility’s water valves and individual homes and businesses. In addition, the field workers will be able to access the information using a mobile device and get the precise coordinates for the underground valves, many of which are located under asphalt. While this may not seem like a big deal, it will save VA American Water a lot of time, and its customers major hassles when a part or parts of the underground water system break down. With this new technology in place, VA American Water will be able to pinpoint exactly where the problem is in their system, including inline valves, rather than spending hours locating the source of the problem (and having to turn off the water for its customers, or reroute traffic during the duration of the diagnostic and repair process.)

The VA American Water project is just the latest in a series of projects that Hopeworks GIS Team has taken on for  American Water. Olivieri says the relationship between the two began “six years ago,” when NJ American Water partnered with the Hopeworks team and engaged it in a small project.

“It’s hard for a nonprofit organization in Camden working with young people to prove that we can provide a professional service,” says Olivieri.”We’re so lucky that NJ American Water wanted to give us the opportunity. We started with a small pilot project, and did so well, that pilot project grew to something bigger, and then to something even bigger than that,” says Olivieri. Since then, the Hopeworks GIS team has completed additional projects for American Water, including one in Tennessee and another in Pennsylvania. 

Hi, my name is Natalie Ortiz, and I was referred to HopeWorks by a friend. Before Hopeworks, I didn't know what I wanted to do in the future. I originally wanted to be a Cosmetologist and gave it a try, but the school was so expensive, I had no other choice but to drop out. After that, I gave a thought to college but never really put my focus there. So I ended up working part-time jobs here and there. Over the years, my mom and family always found that I was good with tech and they constantly told me to find a career in technology. Before Hopeworks, I was thinking of going to college so that I could get work in technology, but then I was told about this unique opportunity that Hopeworks provides for all youths. They told me it was a safe and incredible place to be. My friend helped me enroll and helped me throughout the beginning of the training. Since I started, I was constantly receiving good feedback from staff and other trainees and that motivated me to do better and work harder. One thing that motivated me, for sure, was my boyfriend who is in the army. Seeing him doing bigger and better for him and his family helped me realize I wanted to be a better me for the future. 

Throughout my time in Hopeworks, I’ve gained a lot of different skills; skills that I am very excited to show in the future. I have learned to code and I really enjoyed it. Once I got to the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) module, I found it completely fascinating and interesting. I found working my way around the maps and finding data very interesting. I believe that module was one I finished the fastest. It was so easy, yet so interesting to me. I was able to get an internship with the GIS department, which I was extremely excited to start. Since I started, I’ve learned a lot about maps and the data in a lot of different maps. I feel that because of Hopeworks, I will develop a lot of different skills before I go out and get the future I am working so hard for and that's why I will always be grateful for Hopeworks and all of the amazing staff in the office. Because of Hopeworks, I believe my future will be bright and filled with happiness. I gained hope here that I will always be able to support myself and help my family before, during, and after Hopeworks.

Before I came to Hopeworks, I had already heard about it from a friend who had started some time ago. At the time, I was more focused on school and maintaining my academic standing. With the events of 2020, namely the pandemic, the entire world shifted to online/remote school and work. While still a priority for me, my classes became more comfortable to manage online and opened up a lot of free time for myself. Jobs that were hiring were either unable to accommodate my school schedule or put me in roles that increase my risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19 to my family. Again, Hopeworks was mentioned to me, and I found out it took place remotely, so I jumped on the opportunity to join. 

Hopeworks has opened up a new world of possibilities, experiences, and connections to me. While the technical skills I have learned won’t be applied explicitly to my field of study, they are very valuable. Hopeworks provides more than just the technical skills; there are also the interpersonal skills we develop by having open and honest dialogue with supervisors and peers alike. The trauma-informed approach is crucial to the Hopeworks experience for me, understanding why I feel the way I do, and how to manage and work through these complicated feelings. Hopeworks has also helped me speak with people in fields different from my own and see where they may be interconnected. 

Presently, I am a pre-med student at Rutgers University in my final year of undergrad, preparing to take my MCAT and then applying to medical school. My dream is to become a pediatrician, and I believe the trauma-informed care taught at Hopeworks will help me better tend to my future patients as I heal them physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

A few weeks ago, I joined the GIS team as an intern at Hopeworks because geography plays an important role in understanding people. I hope to use the skills that I will learn in the future to analyze health trends, track the spread of infectious diseases, and better understand my patients through a different perspective. 

You can view Luisa’s portfolio presentation here!

Nina Mercado was skeptical when she came to Hopeworks. Having struggled with so many barriers, she found it hard to believe in herself. With support from the Hopeworks team, Nina is proud of her achievements. She bravely shares her story here.

In August, longtime GIS intern Eric Lee began a new journey -- as a full-time GIS contractor at New Jersey American Water!

“Eric is perfect for this position” shared Hopeworks GIS Director Luis Olivieri. “In his time at Hopeworks, he has shown us his tremendous work ethic, diligence, and attention to detail. He will excel in this role!”

At Hopeworks, Eric was responsible for data analysis and quality assurance for some of the organization’s largest GIS contracts with American Water, an experience he will build upon in his new role at American Water.

As Eric shared in a recent essay, “Even though I know I am going to face different problems along the way, with the motivation of family and friends, including myself, I know I can make it . . . there are a lot of things that still need to be done and a bunch of work that still needs to be finished in order for me to reach my goal.”

Congratulations to Eric in moving into the next phase of his career!  

Often referred to as "The Mayor", Anthony was very excited to learn something new when he heard he earned an internship in the GIS Department. This was a huge deal to Anthony because he worked extremely hard to earn his internship. He admits his time management skills needed work but he developed them through his internship. He believes that he makes smarter decisions now and that his decision-making skills were developed during those 6 months, "I think before I make that move....". 

He would tell future interns to practice good time management, stay focused, and be on top of your game. He credits GIS Director Luis Olivieri with giving him the skill of navigation through a GPS app and he now uses it in his everyday travel. "I will never get lost". 

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Hopeworks is a 501(c)(3) non-for-profit organization, EIN: 31-1660671.
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