Many of the teenagers and young adults who spend time at Pico Youth and Family Center are already involved in visual media projects, music production and software programming. So, executive director Oscar de la Torre figured, why not connect them with local professionals who can nurture their skills even further?

The youth center recently launched a campaign to build partnerships with Silicon Beach businesses and entrepreneurs to help underserved youths gain training, internships and job opportunities in Santa Monica’s high-tech industry.

The so-called Digital Dream Pathways Campaign was launched with the help of Lucas Donat, an executive at TrueCar and a longtime branding strategist with locally based advertising firm Tiny Rebellion.

“We started thinking about how we can connect Silicon Beach to underserved youth in Santa Monica,” de la Torre said. “We want to provide a pathway for people who aren’t traditionally involved in these programs and give them access to careers in the high-tech sector. They can find a place within an industry that depends on people’s creativity, collaborative spirit and ingenuity.”

The initiative is buoyed by a $50,000 matching contribution from the City of Santa Monica, a sign of softening tensions between the nonprofit and City Hall. The City last year stripped the organization of all public funding amid allegations of financial mismanagement and poor accounting, which youth center leaders have repeatedly denied.

According to de la Torre, the relationship between the PYFC and the City has strengthened since the arrival of City Manager Rick Cole and the designation of Tony Vazquez as mayor.

“Everything has been very positive with the leadership of the city,” de la Torre said. “And we intend to keep it positive.”

Fundraising is difficult for small nonprofits, de la Torre said, who added that the PYFC operates with a budget of roughly $300,000. He said he expects a wealthy city like Santa Monica to invest in the underserved youth of the community.

“PYFC wants to make sure every young person in Santa Monica has the opportunity to pursue their talents and reach their full potential,” Vazquez said in a press release.

The initiative kicked off with an academy this summer, and de la Torre said the youth center is planning to host another academy before the end of the calendar year. The 6- to 8-week sessions will aim to cover Web and app development as well as coding with special attention towards art, entertainment and technology.

The program is designed for low-income and historically underrepresented students whose access to professional-grade software and high-level training is limited.

“We’re a little different than most other after-school programs,” de la Torre said, “because we target the youth the are most underserved.”

Organizers hope the initiative inspires participants to develop their skills further after high school at places like Santa Monica College, which recently introduced a four-year bachelor’s degree in interaction design. And the ultimate goal, de la Torre said, is for students to pursue careers in Silicon Beach industries.

“We offer a welcoming and culturally relevant space where young people find staff members that they can relate to,” he said. “They learn that they can actually do technology and succeed. That builds their confidence.”

jeff@smdp.com

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