We strive to be an active member of our many communities, whether it’s related to the work we do or the world in which we live, working with a number of partners to do so. We want to let our audience know more about these organizations as all of them are open to support from individuals and companies alike.
For the first of these community profiles, we introduce Seattle-based nonprofit Unloop, as presented by its Executive Director, Gina Castillo.
What is Unloop and what problem(s) is it trying to address? How is it doing that?
The majority of people leaving prison cannot get a living wage job because they never had, and cannot access training for, in-demand professions; and, they carry the stigma of having a criminal record. Meanwhile, there is a tremendous opportunity in the tech industry with more than 6,000 open software developer jobs in Washington state alone, and demand for these roles continues to outpace supply. At Unloop we are working to bridge these two problems by providing an end-to-end pathway to jobs in software development for people with criminal records. Folks who, by and large for the majority of their lives, have been marginalized from the formal economy and opportunities.
At Unloop, we believe that, given access to a coding education and a network of support, people with records can succeed in the tech industry, break the cycle of incarceration, and become leaders in their communities!
Our one-year training program is delivered in Washington state prisons in partnership with community colleges. We integrate coding and soft skills, preparing students for careers in tech. When students are nearing release, we work with them to develop a plan to cover their basic needs like housing or transportation and connect them with the resources they need to launch their careers, including mentors that already work in the industry.
Finally, we connect students with post-release opportunities aligned with their goals — including a path through our software development shop — Unloop Studio, placement into internships with partner tech companies, and support if they enroll in continued education.
How long have you been at Unloop and what drew you to it?
I like to say that I am new to the organization but a veteran of the mission of Unloop. I came to Unloop in August of 2018. I was pursuing my Ph.D looking primarily at the ways employers view women with criminal convictions surrounding and the efficacy of technology skills in combating stigma and joblessness. But, not too long before — 2010 in fact, I was stuck in the loop of poverty, homelessness, and incarceration and had been since childhood. Learning to code and tech-adjacent skills changed my life.
An individual who has been beaten down can’t just change the way they see themselves. Their confidence must be restored in order for them to effect change in their lives and community. Spreading this message, providing opportunities that my brothers and sisters who have traditionally been marginalized from living-wage and thriving-wage work deserve, and pushing the needle of the narrative about formerly incarcerated folks is my life’s passion. This is what draws me to this work.
What kind of support have you received from companies/organizations? With whom do you partner?
Unloop is made possible because of its supportive community (e.g. company partners, volunteers, donors, etc.). Support ranges from in-kind donations (e.g. laptops, monitors, algorithm textbooks, software, etc.) to financial donations and volunteer work (e.g. mentoring, whiteboarding, resume reviewing, classroom presentations, etc.). One of the greatest forms of support is companies hiring graduates as interns. So far we have partnered with Airbnb, Coding Dojo, Equal Opportunity Schools, Fjord, GitHub, Karrat, Moz, Slalom, and of course Substantial.
Our longest-standing partnership has been with Substantial, a company who has gone above-and-beyond to carry forward the Unloop mission. Substantial has housed us, hosted Unloop fundraisers and community events, visited the Unloop classroom to engage with students, hired an Unloop graduate as an intern, and continues to show up for Unloop graduates and participants to ensure their success in tech.
We are so thankful for all of our community partners, volunteers, and supporters of this mission! Without you all, it would not be possible.
How can companies get involved? How can individuals?
Companies are welcome to get involved with Unloop whether their primary focus is in tech or otherwise. As long as there is a development team or tech-department, there are ways to partner.
Our favorite way to partner is when companies can provide a corporate sponsorship of an Unloop graduate as they complete an internship in our in-house studio, contracting out work and projects to Unloop studio, and hiring an intern. Many companies first get involved by hosting a Lunch & Learn where Unloop shares a bit about itself — why we exist, our model, and options for getting involved. We also offer companies the opportunity to visit the Unloop classroom to present their work in the industry and meet with Unloop participants.
On an individual level, we have several volunteer opportunities available including mentoring Unloop graduates, reviewing resumes, staffing computer lab sessions and office hours, and providing a guest lecture or workshop. We are happy to talk about other ways individuals can get involved as well.
What is one thing you wish everyone knew about Unloop?
We have a studio! Launched this past winter, Unloop Studio was created for graduates to engage in professional software development experiences directly after their release. The studio focuses on both in-house and paid client work utilizing industry best-practices. Participants shadow our lead developer as they build web applications, use projects as live training material, and contribute code to client work. Unloop Studio continues the educational program that students receive while incarcerated and prepares them for entry into the software field with hands-on training while receiving a financial benefit in the form of stipends.
You can reach us @ [email protected]!
Anything else you would like people to know?
We are looking to hire wonderful humans as a Student Success Manager and as a Business Development Specialist.
Also, we are looking for an amazing treasurer for our board & we would love to stay connected. Find us on Twitter and Facebook!