With Support from the Mary and Gary West Foundation, The Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC) established the Convoys to Computers Internship Program; a technology-focused training program for young wounded service members, and other transitioning veterans, to help them secure employment in the civilian sector.
The innovative program grew out a harmonious confluence between the BPOC’s need to grow their staff while on a tight budget, and a keen awareness of the BPOC’s local community by former BPOC Director, Rich Cherry.
In October of 2010, Cherry and his team looked to solve their staffing needs by searching locally – to their neighboring Naval Hospital, whose own struggles included finding ways to help transition hospitalized veterans who were not eligible for the GI Bill funds or the Workforce Partnership. By turning around the traditional question of “what do we need,” to “what have we got?” – museum and technology professionals at the BPOC began to forge creative approaches to community problems and the Convoys to Computers Internship Program, affectionately nicked named the “Wounded Warriors” project, was born.
In addition to working alongside BPOC staff and participating in office meetings, the newly minted veteran interns attended numerous museum receptions and openings where in some cases, their own projects were invited to become part of local exhibits. The interns interacted with museum staff, media and guests, had the chance to describe what it was like participate, presented their skills, and gained the opportunity to network. As the program grew, it cultivated a more effective referral enrollment process and the BPOC began to cultivate an even stronger network of referral organizations and agencies serving the target population.
Together, Cherry’s team and the 24 participating museums and cultural centers that were serviced by Balboa’s Online Collaborative, witnessed significant changes in the abilities and demeanor of the participants as they acquired technical expertise in areas such as computer networking, website development, and video and photo editing. Participants also gained social and professional skills that helped them to be successful at corporate or nonprofit jobs. For some, the program became an important source of support as they dealt with the physical and emotional consequences of their pending discharge from military service.
A total of 16 participants from multiple military branches (Navy, Army, and Marines) were enrolled in the program and as a group, they successfully challenged the many barriers common to employment for most veterans including injuries, PTSD, unstable living environments, and other civil issues. Thirteen (81%) of the participants completed the program which included hands-on internships, professional mentors, IT and work readiness training.
The Convoys to Computers program was an ambitious undertaking for BPOC, an organization that primarily provides technology support to arts organizations. Although obstacles were encountered working with strictly regulated military entities and people experiencing profound upheaval and transition in their lives, the program improved and evolved in response to the challenges presented and the particular needs of the participants resulting in many lessons learned, best practices adopted, community partnerships, and a strong foundation for future programs.
The program was recognized by the San Diego Magazine in late 2011.