Over the years, there have been discussions about innovation, community and accessibility — but what do those words mean? Building a more accessible community isn’t one single task; it’s a process that touches every aspect of development. And, as cities continue to grow in size, we need to think about how they are built and for whom they are designed.
Increasing access means creating an environment that can be used by the whole community and everyone who is a part of it. When we talk about accessibility, people often think only of making a space wheelchair accessible. True accessibility, however, means giving thought to many different aspects of life that make a community easier for those with disabilities to live in.
Hopeworks, a social impact organization located in Camden, New Jersey, has a GIS team that provides critical GIS mapping and data management services to improve organizational efficiency, deploy valuable resources and enable data-driven decisions with the overall goal of making the community more accessible. In addition, Hopeworks’ GIS program provides over twenty internship opportunities for youth — overall, providing life-changing opportunities for these young professionals to grow their tech skills to help them build strong futures and wealth in their communities.
Creating a more accessible community is about creating a city where anyone can have access to anything — no matter their disability. Making these communities more accessible can benefit everyone that lives and visits that city. Hopeworks partners with different organizations across the country, such as New Jersey American Water, Comcast NBCUniversal, Merchantville Pennsauken Water Commission, and Pinelands Preservation Alliance, to test data they have already generated in order to see where improvements are needed, and then provide recommendations and resources on how to implement those solutions in the community.
Pinelands Preservation Alliance Map
For example, Camden — where Hopeworks is based and many of our interns and their families reside — suffers from a serious food accessibility problem. Our team has worked with the City of Camden to resolve this issue by mapping out locations of Camden’s grocery stores, supermarkets, bodegas and corner stores that anyone can use, and subsequently realized that Camden is in serious need of fresh and nutritious food.
Our GIS program is a service recognized at the regional and national levels for the quality of work our team provides and has received numerous accolades for our outstanding work using GIS technology, including being presented with the Special Achievement in GIS award at the Esri User Conference in San Diego. In programs like this and others, our organization is able to make an impact on communities to improve their current situation, all while making a social impact and helping young professionals build their futures. We offer training and resources for Camden's young people in skills in the growing tech industry that help participants earn their diplomas and encourage program participants to continue their education.
No one thought that a nonprofit organization located in Camden would be working with young people and proving to large organizations that the quality of work these young professionals deliver is impactful to their community. The GIS team has been successful over the years, and we have been able to expand our services to more organizations across the country to help them build a more accessible community for all.