Jefferson Award Winner Founded BAYCATBy Sharon Chin

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) This week’s Jefferson Award winner is closing the digital divide by giving low income young people free training, mentoring, and jobs.

From still photography to filmmaking, young people aged 11 to 24 focus on learning valuable new skills at the Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology, or BAYCAT for short. Its President and CEO, Villy Wang, created the media arts school in San Francisco

“They’re seeing that this is work that they can do,” she explained. “In addition, they’re seeing that this is a business.”

Students who graduate from the program can work in BAYCAT’s production company and create media for such high profile clients as Lucasfilm, Autodesk, and the Golden State Warriors. The work pays for the academy so the classes can be offered for free.

Wang founded BAYCAT in 2004, inspired in part by her mother.

“She just proved to me that if you have a vision, and you have a will, you just go out and go do it,” Wang remembered.

Wang’s mother, an immigrant from China, rose from a sweatshop worker to factory owner in New York.

“At the end of the day, she never really believed she mattered,” Wang said sadly. “So BAYCAT is based on the fact that I believe and want the community and everybody to believe that every person’s story matters.”

Wang draws on her background in education, the arts, law and nonprofit business. She motivates students like Hugo Castillo to find his voice.

“I feel that a lot of people don’t have an opportunity to tell their story,” Castillo said. “So I think through BAYCAT it was such an amazing opportunity to be able to finally do that.”

To Phil Elleston II, Wang is like a mother.

“She’s just so caring and she like believes in us,” Elleston said. “It makes me feel confident in myself and empowers me to do awesome.”

So for creating BAYCAT to educate, employ and empower low income young people, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Villy Wang.