We Are the City Spotlight on OperationSTART
By Johnny Lin, Co-Founder and Executive Director of OperationSTART, and the DCYF Communications & Community Engagement Staff
OperationSTART is a youth-led organization that provides an online, free database of enrichment opportunities for youth, nonprofits, and schools in San Francisco. Young people can use OperationSTART to explore their passions and interests, nonprofits can recruit and advertise the opportunities they offer, and school staff can use the platform to refer students to enrichment opportunities.
Tell us the OperationSTART origin story. Whose idea was it to create OperationSTART, and what was the inspiration for it?
OperationSTART was an idea that I came up with during the summer of 2020. The inspiration behind it was the adversity and struggle I faced: during the summer of 2020, I was looking for enrichment opportunities (internships, programs, jobs, volunteer opportunities) that fit my interest — Computer Science — but I had a difficult time finding anything. I learned that DCYF funds about 300 programs in the City and County of San Francisco, but there wasn’t a centralized platform or database to find them. More specifically, there wasn’t a way to find the programs that interested me! That summer, I learned about the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) program through SEO Scholars, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that I’m involved in. The question that went through my head was: how can my friends and peers find enrichment opportunities easily? I looped in two of my friends, Lilian Emelife and Tiffany Ian, also a part of the SEO Scholars program, to become my Co-Founders to bring this idea to life.
How did you and your team move OperationSTART from the idea stage to reality?
Bringing OperationSTART from an idea to reality was not an easy task. The process started with FaceTime and Zoom calls, and discussing the problem and different ways we can tackle it. I suggested building a custom website platform using Bubble.io no-code software, to aggregate all of the enrichment opportunities available in San Francisco. With that solution in mind, our founding team applied for a grant from the Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF), a DCYF-funded program, in 2020. Our application was accepted, and we were granted $10,000. With the money provided through the grant, we were able to purchase essential software needed to bring the OperationSTART website to life. After the YEF grant cycle ended in the spring of 2021, the OperationSTART team applied for another grant with Youth Funding Youth Ideas (YFYI), another DCYF-funded program. With the funds from the YFYI grant, OperationSTART will be able to continue to support youth in the community through September 2022.
What agencies are supporting OperationSTART, and how did you get connected with them?
Some of the organizations and companies supporting OperationSTART include our current fiscal sponsor, Mission Bit, the Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF), Youth Funding Youth Ideas (YFYI), Bubble, Help Scout, The Catchafire Foundation, and many more. All of our supporters are listed on our about page. These partnerships were formed by reaching out to our networks and reaching out to different companies to secure supporters who value what OperationSTART offers for the San Francisco community.
How can youth get connected with OperationSTART and the resources on your platform?
Getting started on OperationSTART is easy! Youth can get connected 24/7/365 on our website at https://operationstart.org.
Get started by creating an account. An account can be created by logging in with a Google account or by entering an email address and creating a password.
Once an account is created, users are asked to complete a short questionnaire to help our system determine the best way to support them. When a user’s account is fully set up, they have access to all of the opportunities in our database.
How can organizations that want young people to know about their opportunities connect with you?
Organizations can visit https://operationstart.org/submit to submit their organization or an opportunity. Once an opportunity or organization is submitted, our team will approve it in no more than five business days (but typically one day).
You are actively recruiting high school age volunteers to help run OperationSTART. What is involved in that volunteer role, and how can interested young people get in touch with you to volunteer?
High schoolers can get involved with OperationSTART by submitting a form at https://volunteer.operationstart.org. We are also working on expanding our volunteer program to include professionals that can help advise our team, and anyone who is interested can let us know using the same form. Any questions about volunteering can be directed to Lilian Emelife, Co-Founder and Outreach Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OperationSTART is just now getting off the ground, and we are very excited to see it come into fruition! How do you envision OperationSTART six months, one year, and five years from now?
The mission of OperationSTART is to ensure that everyone has equitable access to enrichment opportunities offered by our community, and that’s what guides us as we make plans for the future.
In the next six months, our goal is to onboard more San Francisco programs and nonprofits, and to create more awareness about OperationSTART and the services we offer to youth and young people.
In the one year, our goal is to work to solidify partnerships with nonprofits and programs based in San Francisco, then work to expand our services into surrounding areas of San Francisco. This includes Oakland, San Mateo, San Jose, and other Bay Area counties.
Five years from now, I envision OperationSTART expanding to serve the state of California and the entire country. I also envision OperationSTART as a platform that will serve a range of individuals, not only high schoolers.
OperationSTART was created by and for San Francisco youth. From that perspective, what do you feel that the City of San Francisco should do to help youth thrive?
From my perspective, the City of San Francisco could help youth thrive by providing access to more programs and opportunities related to college career exploration, including opportunities to learn more about potential college majors.
DCYF’s goal is to work with partners like OperationSTART to make San Francisco a great place to grow up. How do you feel OperationSTART contributes to this?
I believe that OperationSTART helps further DCYF’s goal of making San Francisco a great place to grow up because our very existence proves that the City is not afraid to invest in young people and our ideas. I was able to become the founder of a youth-led nonprofit in the city shortly after graduating from high school: this shows future generations that they can do the same and create a positive impact on our community and the city that we all love.