Nonprofit helps close the tech opportunity gap among women in the Bronx

A learner in the Per Scholas program.
Photos courtesy of Per Scholas

A national nonprofit that educates and empowers people in the technology field recently received a big financial boost.

On Nov. 13, the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation (FAL Foundation) made a $50,000 investment in Per Scholas to support the enrollment of 100 women into its New York programs focused on information technology (IT), cyber security, software engineering and cloud support. Per Scholas has offices in 14 cities, including one in the Bronx at 804 E 138th St. While they have transitioned to remote learning for the time being, the majority of their learners are Bronx and Brooklyn-based.

The FAL Foundation’s Women in Tech Scholars Program will help cover partial programmatic costs and additional support services for students through August 2021.

“It is no secret that women are vastly underrepresented in the tech sector, which is why Per Scholas is committed to supporting women’s abilities to have their voices heard, and for them to be empowered to become the next great leaders and change agents in their communities,” said Abe Mendez, managing director of Per Scholas NY.

The FAL Foundation’s grant is the latest in a series of funding commitments they’ve made to show support for entrepreneurial programs.

“Opening the door to computer science and technology is a game changer and will help women rise out of poverty,” said Francine LeFrak, founder of FAL. “I am so proud to be working with Per Scholas and so excited to see the opportunities they are providing for talented women to have new careers in technology.”

Through this program, FAL Scholars will complete 15 weeks of training administered by Per Scholas that will prepare them for careers in technology. In 2020, Per Scholas enrolled a little over 400 learners from New York City, with 31 percent of them being from the Bronx. So far, 50 from the borough have graduated this year.

Mendez told the Bronx Times that Per Scholas helps prepare people  for entry level jobs in tech careers such as software engineering and coding. He said the average age of the learners is 31 and many come from low income communities of color where they lack technology at home. He added that teachers at the nonprofit are alumni of the program.

“Our goal is to place 80 percent of our graduates within employment within a year,” he said.

Mendez explained that in the middle of the pandemic, he and his colleagues surveyed their learners to see how they were impacted by COVID-19.  They discovered more than 50 percent had lost their jobs.

In March, the nonprofit closed its training site and transitioned over 200 learners to 11 virtual classes. To date, Per Scholas has recruited nearly 300 learners in 17 virtual classes.

Additionally, Per Scholas has provided over 50 laptops to learners to support this transition and has supported them with emergency cash assistance as well as referral services

“We’re incredibly grateful to FAL,” Mendez said. “We feel strongly that all of our learners can be successful in changing their careers.”

Through Per Scholas’s tuition-free tech training programs, more than 12,000 job-seekers across the U.S., including 7,000 in NYC, have received the technology skills and financial coaching they need to be successful in today’s workforce.

“As a lifelong learner with a passion for technology, Per Scholas’ training program has elevated me and my cohort’s professional development and technical expertise,” said Melissa Meriweather, Per Scholas learner and Francine A. LeFrak scholar. “I am incredibly grateful to Per Scholas and the FAL Foundation for the opportunity to further my career in tech. Through this partnership, I can see that the insurmountable is surmountable.”

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