Local “Salonprenuer”, Cyber Streets, and Inner City Cultural League (ICCL) team up to #RecodeTheCommunity and #MakeI.T.Happen in Dover with state’s first Robotic Community Garden!
Tracy Torres is not only the local “salonpreneur” and owner of Artt Studio 4 Hair INC. in Camden, Delaware, but she has served on Camden Town Cancel since 2014, and is also serving her community as the Vice Mayor on her second term. Living to serve her community, she is also passionate about youth and community empowerment. So much that as soon as she heard about Cyber Streets (CyberStreets.org), a local forward thinking, veteran led, tech-mentor program that is quickly gaining popularity across Delaware, she jumped to be first to host a fund raising event to support their newest cutting edge project: building and deploying the state’s first robotic community gardens to inspire, empower, and serve at-risk inner city communities. Extraordinarily, within 2 hours her and her community managed to raise enough of the remaining funding needed for Cyber Streets to secure their newest innovative “AgTech” community project.
Born to Serve
Tracy resiliently knows the challenges of finding opportunity all too well. “I have been a licensed Cosmetologist since 1996 and before relocating to Delaware with my husband and then 8 month old daughter in late 2005, I worked full time in a Pharmaceutical Company and part time in a Hair Salon. I had no idea how hard it would be to get a job in Delaware and actually commuted back and forth to NJ as a contract employee training new employees on the systems and policies for Sanofi-Aventis for almost a year. In 2006, I decided to leave corporate America and took a job in Delaware at a salon making $6.15 per hour and by October of 2007. Soon after I decided I was going to open my own salon and on December 8, 2007. I opened ‘ARTT Studio 4 Hair’ and haven’t looked back. My love for helping others and constant need to keep my mind challenged, I decided to run for Camden Town Council in 2014.”
Tracy continued, “The first day I met Jason and heard about Cyber Streets, I knew I wanted to help him or work with him in some way. Helping kids understand, no matter their financial upbringing, that they can be successful is so important to me. I did not grow up with money but I have never let that hold me back and any organization that takes the time to teach a child their worth, is an organization I will support! “
“I was blown away when I received a call from Jason (Stewart, VP Cyber Streets) the night before the event informing me that she wanted her business to support us with a short notice fundraiser!” said Rob Bentley, Founder/President of Cyber Streets. “Since I don’t ask to raise funds, which are historically independently funded from my own time and resources, for any of my community projects that we have been building for the last year and a half, I was pretty shocked when she called us out of the blue. When others are willing to voluntarily get behind your mission to change the future technological talent pool across your state and country, big things are soon to happen, and we truly appreciate her support for the youth of tomorrow!”
Rob Bentley, a former TEDx speaker and multi award winning Global Enterprise IT leader for the Department of Defense, is historically known for independently focusing his extraordinary positive “energy” by #TakingAction to manifest his community ideas to reality, of which he coined the hashtag/slogan #Vision2Fruition. Over the last year and a half him and Jason, both military veterans dedicating their lives to serving communities in need several years after active duty, have partnered and transformed the Inner City Cultural League (ICCL)/Sankofa Cultural Arts Center into an independent, community tech hub delivering #Opportunity4All. The center now hosts their ongoing, self-sustaining, weekly tech-mentor program that runs not just 1 day, not 1 week, but year round all through the summer. In that short time they have reached and positively impacted over 300 lives of youth and families across the state. The majority of those impacted, for the moment, reside in the state’s capital of Dover. Thus far Cyber Street’s methodical efforts have already empowered not just youth, but single mother’s/father’s, foster children, combat veteran’s, teachers, musicians, high school/college students, and technologists with new enlightened career choices to pursue at no cost to them other than finding internet access.
Rob decided to start Cyber Streets for several reasons, one being that he himself is no stranger to the adversity of the communities he so passionately serves which is sometimes very challenging for him to talk about. Growing up was rough as his family like so many from his community often struggled to make ends meet. Often they would live in unsavory environments, without electric or water on several extended occasions. At 9 he began to strategize and coordinate the free food he could gather from local grocery store and restaurant dumpsters. “You would be amazed at the amount of good food restaurants and grocery chains throw away for insurance reasons. I soon realized that just because something was out of date didn’t necessarily mean it was bad or spoiled”.
As a youth Rob had also been homeless for a couple spells living in motels for several weeks. “It was really emotionally challenging for 7 of us living in a motel room or a 2 bedroom duplex while trying to succeed in school after transferring from high school to high school.” It became such a stressing challenge that he eventually dropped out and went back to ace his GED and aggressively pursued a career in the restaurant and hospitality industry. No matter what happened growing up, he was always appreciative that his stepdad did the best he could to keep some sort of roof over their head.
Then his whole world traumatically turned upside down when his brother/best friend commit suicide because he never truly knew how to love and take care of himself. “That was by far the most challenging part of my life. It took me years to eventually heal. During that time, I was only living through the pain for others, not myself. But after I did heal, I began looking for more opportunities to help serve and support others struggling with adversity in hopes someone else would not have to endure the pain and heartbreak that me and my family did.”
“When we work with all these communities that struggle with intense adversity, my heart gets feverously motivated and driven to gather and shed tremendous light and hope in their lives, because I see myself and my brother in ALL of them.”
He eventually left the restaurant industry to pursue a career in education, but soon after 9/11 took place and several months after the country went to war he felt that he should be serving as well. After achieving some of the highest scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) he received his choice to go into the Information Technology (I.T.) field with the USAF, and since then hasn’t looked back. “I.T. was a gift that truly enabled me with versatile and limitless opportunity! All I wanted to do is share the opportunity and inspire others, so eventually I began my journey of #TakingCyberToTheStreets!”
Today, a year and a half later, the program has rapidly evolved from teaching communities to rebuild and repurpose donated computers, to 3D printing violins for their community strings programs, to 3D printing custom prosthetic arms for the community, to now building and donating the newest Robotic Community Garden back to the community. “One of our core purposes is that we (Cyber Streets) don’t just provide the typical popular STEM camp/class into the community.” Bentley states. “We recruit the gardeners (mentors) to plant, nurture, and water the seeds (people) in the garden (community) and provide the sunlight/water (inspiring hope/opportunity) for them to grow into the opportunistic, high-demand, technological future. That is precisely why we branded one of our slogans “#FindThemPlantThemGrowThem.”
“This is why this new Robotic Community Garden is the perfect symbol of our community’s collective efforts.” Bentley states. “We ensure everything that we put into the community also provides them the capability and requirement to sustainably give back to the community through what they have been provided and exposed to, basically paying-it-forward and #STEMingTheFuture, #4TheCommunityByTheCommunity.”
The new community garden is one of several projects that Cyber Streets is planning for each county. As a predominantly agricultural state Delaware understands how critical agriculture is for the survival of the planet. However, most of the communities Cyber Streets serves aren’t aware of the amount of complex technology that is required to support the rapid evolution of “stack farming”, robotic harvesting, drone mapping, GPS navigated farm machines, and other remarkable innovations in agricultural technologies to name a few. In a rapidly evolving farming era that is increasingly supported and driven by new tech, this also means there are exciting AgTech jobs that have a serious demand to be filled across the region, country, and world. Like many other critical STEM fields, one of the problems is that many communities are not exposed over the long term to these exciting opportunities. Although there may be amazing facilities they can go to for educational exposure, they are often miles away, out of reach, and out of mind. This robotic garden changes that AgTech opportunity for exposure by bringing it to the community, Cyber Streets core mission, and placing amazing scalable AgTech in their own backyard. This technology has the capability to migrate a farmer into a techie and a techie into a farmer while reducing the carbon footprint, which can be very exciting for the future of humanity.
The robotic technology behind the garden is an open-source solution provided and developed by FarmBot. Currently educators, non-profits, and farmers are joining the small growing community around the globe (including NASA) for research, development, and STEM/STEAM education purposes. It provides an extraordinarily dynamic educational opportunity to combine elements of (but not limited to) agricultural sciences, meteorology, coding, engineering, data analytics, gaming, IoT, mathematics, computer science, and much more. Currently Rob Bentley has specific research and development plans for his second unit to work with FarmBot and the local community to make it fully portable, affordable, and accessible to any community.
“We can always tell our communities that endless opportunity is out there, but unless we find a way to place it in their hands and enable them to truly experience it in every location possible, then they may never truly experience how important and exciting it is. It is not merely enough to build really amazing state-of-the-art tech/innovation centers several miles away from the communities that truly need them.” Bentley says. “We need the capability to place it in their hands wherever they are. That is where we come in by ‘replacing idle hands with keyboards’, and by enforcing #UnityInTheCommunity, #SafetyOnOurStreets, and #Opportunity4All! We accomplish all this by harnessing the extraordinary power of technology, innovation, and human spirit! We often accomplish our efforts with an engaging and empowering conversation followed by a detailed email with a specific custom roadmap for the free tools/resources and career pathways they desire. Fortunately, now AgTech can be included in that critical and empowering conversation as well.”
Cyber Streets and ICCL say this is only the beginning. Over the last year and a half they have partnered and built several alliances across the state with direct support advocate organizations like that have donated considerable time, personnel, resources, and public advocacy directly to the program and its outreach initiatives. Those remarkable organizations include the Delaware Youth Philanthropy Board, SecureNetMD, Dover Air Force Base, Dover Capital City Rotary Club, Leadership Delaware, Transcore (DELDOT), Bob Johnson’s Computer Stuff, Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education, Sussex County STEM Alliance, and University of Delaware to name just a few. Additionally, they have several strategic plans already in motion to not only infuse Computer Science into the school system with their various national partners, but will soon begin a new partnership that empowers struggling, and sometimes hopeless families across the state and around the globe by providing a family building/bonding model which provides a new world of opportunity for everyone!
“We ensure that we are very clear on our message. This being that the “T” in STEM/STEAM, Tech, touches EVERYTHING. This means that because the world of tech is the fundamental foundational fabric for virtually all industries that you have opportunity to traverse into virtually ANY field of your desire! The beautiful thing about technology is that it is FULLY inclusive and does NOT discriminate against race, religion, political affiliation, disability, or gender. After they are exposed, the only thing holding a person back from opportunity is their own mind, and that is where mentors play a crucial motivational role. With tech ANYONE, from the affluent to non-affluent, can find a passionate career in science, engineering, art, agriculture, government, academia, banking, marketing, healthcare, and the sky is the limit!
Probably some of the most powerful testimony about Cyber Streets comes directly from the community itself. In a recent statement the ICCL Director, Kathrina Stroud, stated the following about working with Cyber Streets for the last year and a half to pilot their empowering philosophy:
“Cyber Streets is not just a program. It is a philosophy. It is a way of life. It is a way of thinking. Rob has a vision of positively impacting the world. Yes, the WORLD! When you see him, you see unchecked drive, determination, creativity, imagination, and ENERGY. That is Cyber Streets! If you have an idea or a problem to solve, research it; make a plan; put it into action; never give up! It doesn’t take a technology center, or a lot of money. It can be in your basement or backyard with your children and their friends. There are plugged-in and unplugged activities that are fun and educational. There aren’t many things I can think of that aren’t related in some way to technology. My daughter and I changed light bulbs on her car this summer. That may sound like a simple task to some, but neither of us had ever done it. Technology related? You decide. I, no… WE have been bitten by the Cyber Streets bug. I can! You can! We can! I love this philosophy. What’s that song? ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now!’
ICCL is uber excited to begin implementing this new project into their community! The newly hired english teacher turned tech teacher/mentor, local community techie father turned technology leader/mentor, meteorology/media/communications mentor, and the rest of the ICCL staff are all motivated to embark on this new exciting journey with Cyber Streets together!
“When several growing communities across the state and country get behind your empowerment efforts, extraordinary things begin to manifest at an accelerated pace!” Bentley states. “When they do, you had better be ready to #TakeAction and #MakeITHappen!”