Listening to Jay MacIntosh talk about Silicon Valley’s foster care system is like strapping in for a ride that is known for twists and bumps, but finding oneself plunging lower — and then rising higher — than anyone could have warned.
The onetime tech worker and longtime foster child advocate wants people to know about the foster youth all around Silicon Valley. In his experience as a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, for foster children, the kids are funny, smart and capable, he says with a smile. Then he turns more seriously to the data, which shows those same kids are still statistically more likely to become homeless, develop a drug dependence or attempt suicide than kids who grow up in more stable homes with their families.
Now the 56-year-old techie turned activist has founded an online-based program that connects foster youth with residents in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties who can spend time with them, share advice or offer non-financial resources.
“Even though I was on the for-profit side, I always had this yearning to not just do well in technology, but I’m at this point in my life where I want to do good with technology,” he said. “It became very clear to me that doing good with technology was going to be, for lack of a better term, my second act in life.”
MacIntosh landed his first tech job at Apple more than 30 years ago, a big break just out of college with an engineering degree from Santa Clara University. He parlayed that into a successful career in Silicon Valley, co-founding two companies and making stops as a consultant at other big names like Cisco Systems and Lam Research before starting a nonprofit, Foster the Future, focused on foster children last year.
In his “second act,” he’s now launched The Village, an online program that uses an algorithm to pair foster youth and local volunteers based on interests and experiences. The Village is meant to supplement what children get from the existing child welfare system, which MacIntosh said is filled with hardworking people who are simply overburdened.
“There’s a lot of applications out there to help you find boyfriends and girlfriends and help you find the best dresser and rug … there’s 30 different apps you can use to find cars all over the Bay Area,” said Michael Luciano, a volunteer back-end developer for The Village. “Why can’t that same kind of technology be used to … see what is the best service to offer a child who wants something?”
Luciano, the son of a social worker, has been volunteering about 20 hours a week since April to help build The Village’s algorithm along with security and encryption features on the website that ensure participants’ privacy.
He’s one of 15 volunteers with The Village and says he was drawn in because “a lot of times things that are pitched to me don’t seem very unique, but this definitely seemed a very unique idea,” he said. “Jay was able to really convey that well.”
Indeed, Mary Devincenzi, a Silicon Valley public relations and communications professional, said MacIntosh’s enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on her. She’s been volunteering an average of 10 hours a week to help get the word out about The Village.
“He’s very driven in his cause to help these kids,” she said of MacIntosh. “He’s a CASA, he’s been involved with these kids in the foster care system for a long, long time. He just wants to find a solution and just seeing that come through made me want to help.”
The program allows volunteers to offer a hand up to kids in whatever way they can or want, from mailing books to showing them how to fish or editing a resume and everything in between. There’s no minimum time commitment or specific volunteer hours.
The point of The Village is its flexibility to offer new resources — beyond the basic food and shelter that the current system provides — to foster youth while breaking down the number-one barrier that keeps people from volunteering: time.
“Most volunteer roles aren’t all that interesting,” MacIntosh said. “We are eliminating a time excuse, and we are making it interesting because we are tapping into your unique interests.”
He’s now looking for 1,000 people in Silicon Valley to sign up through The Village website who want to offer any amount of their time or skills to foster kids, and specifically transition-age youth, meaning those who are in their late teens to early 20’s just figuring out adulthood. Notably, volunteers are never alone with foster youth, and any interactions are facilitated by a state-licensed advocate for the children, MacIntosh assured.
The Village has so far been bankrolled entirely by MacIntosh. His next goal is to make the program sustainable by partnering with companies and local philanthropies.
“I’m not independently wealthy, so I can’t do this forever,” he said, noting he isn’t looking for government money to make it work. “I want the community to step up.”
Eventually MacIntosh wants to create an endowment that can keep The Village alive in perpetuity and help fund things like the deposit for a young adult’s first apartment, a dance class for a child or educational programs that will help with foster children’s future upward mobility.
“The majority of kids are just like every other kid,” he said. “They just happen to be in situations where they have experienced some trauma — typically at the hands of adults.”
Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.