Despite everything that this year threw at us, we were able to launch our 2020 Community Fellowship program this fall. In this series, we’ll be introducing you to the 2020 Fellowship cohort, in their own words.
For the 2020 Community Fellowship, we knew that we wanted to bring on individuals with project-related lived experience and partner them with their local government to more effectively address inequities in service delivery. We also knew that we wanted to find government partners first, to help craft problem statements that would guide the Fellows efforts. For our partners in Santa Barbara, that statement was:
“How might the County of Santa Barbara Public Defender make supportive programs and resources accessible to justice-impacted residents to improve the quality of their lives and reduce recidivism?”
To help answer that question, we brought on three Fellows: product designer Jeanmarie Levy, and engineers Tim Malstead and Victor Sauceda. As the team settled into their Fellowship, we asked them some questions about what brought them to Code for America, why community issues matter to them, and what they’re most looking forward to in this Fellowship year.
What inspired you to apply for the Community Fellowship?
Jeanmarie: I was drawn to the Community Fellowship because the problem statement hits close to home for me. Previously a lot of my work has been rooted in serving my Santa Barbara community and this was the perfect opportunity to combine my love for service with my passion for design! As a product designer, I specialise in advocating for unheard communities so I wanted to bring my skill sets to this fellowship and further serve my Santa Barbara Community. I am deeply grateful to now have this opportunity to serve the justice-impacted population.
Tim: I haven’t been an engineer all that long, and I was looking for a way to put my skills to use for something other than private sector work . I’ve done some very fulfilling volunteer work with Hack for LA (shout out to Food Oasis Los Angeles!) and I wanted very much to continue working with civic tech.
When I saw the opportunity to apply to the Fellowship, I jumped at it. Being able to do work that has a real impact in the lives of often marginalized and overlooked populations is rad.
Victor: I was given the opportunity to apply for the position after completing my coding bootcamp. I had heard about the work that Code for America was doing in our communities and I wanted to contribute to the efforts.
What draws you to community work?
Jeanmarie: I believe that the only way to enact lasting positive change is to work with and to include the community. I am drawn to serve the community because I am so grateful for the many communities that have supported and guided me to where I am today. I value advocating for those in the community that often go unheard by ensuring that they are a part of the design process from start to finish.
Previously, I served the community in my roles in higher education where I would design learning experiences for marginalized student populations. As I switched my careers, I knew that doing community work is the core of who I am and needed to be an essential part of my role as a designer.
As a current resident of Santa Barbara, this community is special to me. I have deeply appreciated being able to work with the many fantastic community based organizations here in Santa Barbara that are working tirelessly to improve the lives of the justice impacted population.
Tim: Apart from how great it feels to help out communities who need it, community work is just much more interesting to me. I feel much more fulfilled at the end of a day spent helping people access food or housing or public services than I do after a day debugging code for a staffing services website. Cool tech, interesting challenges and real impact in real people’s lives; I’ve not found anything cooler than that.
Victor: I spent 8 years in prison. The last few years I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as far as my career went. Eventually I took a liking to coding and learned how to code while in prison—without the internet. What interests me in community work is it is my opportunity to give back to my community after all of the years that I have taken. I am able to bring in unique insights and perspectives through my background and lived experiences. The question I ask myself is: “If not you, then who?”
Why is getting better access to resources and services to justice-impacted residents in your community important to you?
Jeanmarie: Santa Barbara County is a beautiful place. We have gorgeous sunsets, large mountains, and wonderful beaches. We are a tourist location and many would assume that everything is perfect due to the extreme wealth that can be present here. However, nestled between the mountains and the beaches are populations of people that go unheard. As a current and longtime Santa Barbara resident, serving this community is deeply important to me for this reason. I seek to advocate for the justice-impacted community and bring them to the forefront of the conversation.
I am passionate about this problem because it’s personal. This problem scenario is of great importance to me because it’s a problem that has deeply impacted my community. Without the proper support and program structures in place, it is rather easy for many justice-impacted folks to fall back into recidivism. I am passionate about designing systems to better support justice-impacted people as I think there is so much room for growth. Programs that focus on the person’s mental health, education and confidence are key when people are reentering.
Tim: This project resonates with me personally because I have had friends and loved ones who have been impacted by the criminal legal system. I’ve seen firsthand how a system that should be helping people rebuild after a tough time in their lives is often doing the opposite, and setting them up for failure and recidivism. With this project, I am proud to contribute to changing that.
Victor: It is important to me because I wish it was something that I had. I feel that this will help with guidance to success, equipping returning residents with tools that could be useful throughout their transition into society.
What are you most excited about, or looking forward to learning, during your Fellowship?
Jeanmarie: I am excited about all the things! I am looking forward to designing for good. I hope to positively impact my surrounding community of Santa Barbara. I would like to design a solution that helps the marginalized population and assist Code for America’s mission to help build a delivery-driven government. This solution will allow justice-impacted residents to increase their overall quality of life and decrease the chance of recidivism. I understand that the solution may be just a stepping stone to the greater outcome but would seek an overall decrease in recidivism after the implementation of the solution. Lastly, I am excited to gain a network of like minded mission driving professionals who work tirelessly to improve the lives of others.
Tim: Oh man, so much stuff! I’m excited to learn how real governments set up and maintain their web and internal infrastructures, to learn about government compliance standards and how they apply to gathered information and how to get real communities to buy in so everyone can feel like this is their tool to use and contribute to, not just a one way resource.
In addition, this is a great opportunity for me to get deeper technical knowledge of SEO, analytics, headless content management, elastic containers, and hopefully some practical experience with serverless setups too!
Victor: I am very interested to see how others were able to remain free from incarceration. What were some of the approaches they were able to take? Along with some of the struggles that they continue to face. These insights alone are beneficial in not only helping me out, but the next person as well.