With Facebook mere miles to the north and Google to the south, Bayshore Christian Ministries (BCM) aims to share a slice of the high-tech pie.
The faith-based organization, an East Palo Alto mainstay that for three decades has served youth through its year-round tutoring, mentoring and Bible club activities, saw its focus expand in 2013 as teens clamored for a place at the technology table.
BCM piloted two programs – the EPA Chica Squad and Teens ’n Tech – to introduce youth to computer science and programming principles.
According to Executive Director Rolando Zeledon, the initiatives are designed to engage youth, teach them practical skills and, most importantly, challenge them to create products that move the community forward in a positive, influential way.
“Holistically, it’s not just about the skills, and it’s not just about leadership – though, obviously, that combination is powerful – it’s about what they do with those skills,” he said. “It’s value-centered, and we focus on developing the character values that come along with that.”
Zeledon sees another benefit for his BCM charges, who often lack the exposure, means and resources to pursue tech-related activities like robotics.
“What’s the biggest need we have?” he asked. “Hope. We still have kids who come from broken homes, broken situations.”
Often, according to Zeledon, kids raised in East Palo Alto define success as leaving – moving to another community.
“But imagine the economic transformation that could happen when you equip a child with not just the tech skills to remain in the community, but also with a passion and heart for that community,” he said. “Here at BCM, we’re helping kids think about serving others. Technology is the hook, but we have a bigger commission – serving deep is what we’re about.”
In the big picture, Zeledon said, BCM wants to impart technical knowledge that leads to 21st-century workplace skills, but the programming is designed for students to “discover their gifting.”
“We want students to realize, ‘We all have different gifts, we all have different skills, but together we can come up with something,’” he said. “It’s a win-win – tech plus character.”
Despite the new high-tech offerings, BCM remains committed to boosting literacy. The organization used last year’s Town Crier Holiday Fund contribution to expand its KidSmart tutoring program, enabling 20 percent more students to enroll. BCM will use the 2014 Holiday Fund donation to shore up its programs.
As Bayshore Christian Ministries celebrates its 30th anniversary with a gala event May 4, the organization’s board plans to conduct a strategic review and update its programs.