SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A man who was once described as the biggest dope dealer of San Francisco’s Tenderloin is now known as the district’s “mayor” for his work in making sure his neighbors get a fair shot at new technology jobs in their area.

Del Seymour leads walking tours of San Francisco’s Tenderloin and neighbors have asked him what he tells others about them.

“Are you telling them that we want to go to work and we don’t have the opportunity to go to work?” he described. “One girl passionately came and said, ‘Del, I’ll get off this corner when you get me something else to do.'”

After that, Seymour called some businesses and asked why they weren’t hiring the underserved.

“They says, ‘Well, they not job ready,'” Seymour recalled.

So Seymour founded Code Tenderloin in 2015. The nonprofit has provided free job training classes to more than 1,000 homeless, formerly incarcerated, and others who are at-risk. They learn basic coding and job readiness skills such as interviewing and resume writing, and graduate from the program when they’re done.

Nearly nine in ten Code Tenderloin participants get jobs or go to college. The group partners with firms like Uber, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Twitter which offer grants, classroom space, volunteers, and in some cases, paid internships.

Chasma Smith, Uber’s program manager, says students feel empowered. “They’re building those basic foundational skills that sets them up for a career in tech,” Smith said.

In addition, students get mentors and support with basic needs. Donna Hilliard now works for Code Tenderloin as its program director, but back when she was a participant, she saw Seymour’s desire for each person to succeed.

“And Del was like, ‘Whatever you need. Do you need a BART ticket? How you gotta feed your kids tonight?’ I could not believe it. I was blown away,” Hilliard said.

A former drug dealer, Seymour lived in a Tenderloin dumpster for 18 years before his faith and rehabilitation turned his life around. Now at age 72, he gives the gift of hope.

“We try to get your self-esteem back,” he said. “You just lost it for a minute. So we help you find it, bring it out of you. And once you get that dignity back in you, the sky’s open.”

So for giving at-risk people a fresh start at a job in technology, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Del Seymour.

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