Forget Rap and the NFL, this Watts Teen has iPhone Apps in Mind

Jonathan is changing the culture and mindset in his community. The 15 year-old is a sophomore at Locke High School in South Los Angeles, and he is breaking all the stereotypes of what a kid in Watts would be doing in the 10th grade. He spends his free time finding solutions to community problems through computer programming and iPhone app development, instead of dreaming about rap or NFL careers.

Jonathan's work ethic, desire to succeed, and willingness to be mentored is helping him overcome the reality that only 60% of students graduate in LAUSD schools, and incarceration rates for high school drop outs can be as high as 75% in areas like South Los Angeles. Jonathan is a true role model to other teens in the inner city.

He has used coding as a way to learn how to learn while developing discipline, confidence, and a vision. "I doubted myself when I started Xcode and learning iPhone app development," says Jonathan. "I stay motivated because I don't want to fail, I want to get to the point where I can say 'its all been worth it.'"

The iPhone app Jonathan built is called LA Volunteers, and he built it as part of a summer coding academy ran by URBAN Teens eXploring Technology (URBAN TxT). Jonathan describes the app as the "go-to resource for teens looking to find the perfect volunteer opportunity in Los Angeles." Jonathan dedicated hundreds of hours to developing a solution for high school students. "My goal is to help teens fulfill their volunteer requirements for graduation and scholarships while having the best volunteer experience possible."

Mentorship played a big role while Jonathan was developing the iPhone app LA Volunteers. Kyle Baxter, a mobile app developer and volunteer for URBAN TxT, held a few beginner workshops during the spring. Once the summer started, Jonathan and Kyle kept in touch through URBAN TxT's intranet, social media, and Google Hangouts.

Kyle did not donate his time because he had to, but wanted to. "I enjoyed meeting all of the URBAN TxT teens, but Jonathan had a focus and a desire to learn that made working with him easy and enjoyable," explained Kyle.

Jonathan was not only learning to code but also learning how to develop solutions through code. Kyle saw this first hand whenever Jonathan would come to him with questions. "Whenever he'd ask me anything he had already broken the problem down and looked for different solutions, he had done his homework and that was inspirational to see. He didn't want me to tell him the answer, instead he wanted me to help him learn how to find the solution."

The impact is evident to mentors outside of the organization. "He is so motivated now," says Luisa Marcelino, Jonathan's mom. "He comes home, sits down in front of the computer, and starts working. I'm thankful that he's had to opportunity to see what he can accomplish now and in the future."

Diving into iPhone app development and his involvement with a culture of technology is molding Jonathan in diverse ways. "I've realized that confidence is a requirement to succeed in the entrepreneurial world," says the 15-year old. "Now a days I'm not just confident, but also inspired. I've always admired technology and wanted to get into that field, now I know I can."

Even though the words "Watts" and "South Los Angeles" calls images of crime and violence for some, Jonathan and his peers at URBAN TxT are redefining what the future of Watts will be associated with - technology, grit, and excellence.

Jonathan's story is unique because you wouldn't expect that a child born to a low-income immigrant family would have such an insatiable appetite for coding. Up until a few weeks ago he had no internet at home and the one computer the family owns is passed around between Jonathan's parents, himself, and his two younger siblings. Simply said, he hasn't had many chances to explore technology, much less iPhone app development. Even with all odds against him, Jonathan is becoming a technology pioneer in his community.

Jonathan is one of the only sophomores in Los Angeles that is developing for iPhone, and he has his eyes set on top computer science programs for his undergrad. "Now my goal is Stanford, before coding I never thought about going there," explained Jonathan. "Coding gets me closer to what I want, but the most important thing is that I feel proud and accomplished for the work I've done."