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Green Valley nonprofit MySecureKid provides opportunities in IT and cybersecurity

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A Green Valley-based nonprofit is encouraging kids to dream about working in tech the same way they dream of being a doctor or lawyer one day.

To help launch them into those career paths, MySecureKid — which also educates families about internet safety — connects children and teens with programming, apprenticeships and mentors.

Since founding the organization in 2018, Quiana Gainey and JaLisa Johnson have focused on supporting children from underrepresented backgrounds. While cybersecurity and technology are projected to grow more than 13%, they say a “knowledge gap” is holding back Black and Hispanic people, as well as people with disabilities, from riding that job growth wave.

“We were the first IT apprenticeship in D.C., and we were servicing a population that was what they consider disenfranchised. We just said that they’re undiscovered,” Gainey said.

Gainey and Johnson have both founded for-profit companies in cybersecurity and healthcare tech, respectively. Using that experience, plus their backgrounds in government contracting and military service, the duo say they created curricula for students to bridge that knowledge gap.

“We want them to see that there’s a shortage in cybersecurity [and that] our infrastructure, our country needs this,” Gainey said. “So let’s start with building that into the curriculum, building partnerships with community, with nonprofits like ourselves, so that we can help the next generation realize their dreams and also help them not go into all traditional [careers].”

Co-founders Quiana Gainey (left) and JaLisa Johnson (right) (courtesy of Quiana Gainey)

MySecureKid offers apprenticeship programs for teens as well as summer cyber camps and after-school programs for younger children. They pair high school students with mentors and provide scholarships to those pursuing education in IT, emerging technologies, healthcare, cybersecurity and entrepreneurship.

It also has worked with Arlington Public Schools for three years and has plans to partner with their apprenticeship program in the fall.

With these programs, Johnson says she hopes that students gain hands-on skills over time — similar to a trade school.

“We make things fun but challenging,” Johnson said.

She and Gainey also make sure parents have opportunities to learn about tech issues, such as internet safety.

“I always tell parents, when you give your childhood phone, it’s like leaving them in the middle of the intersection, and telling them to find themselves their way home,” Gainey said. “Now, you wouldn’t do that, right. So when you give them that cell phone, it’s time to have that conversation.”

Their space in Green Valley, which they call the “360XP Zone,” is self-sufficient, powered with renewable energy and connected to its own water supply. It features learning, retail and event spaces and is equipped with a full-service kitchen and bar. Small businesses can even rent these spaces and benefit MySecureKid in the process.

Calling on her healthcare background, Johnson designed the space to include clinics that she says meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

“We always say, ‘I don’t wait for someone else to do something. You can be the change you want to see,” Gainey said.

Inside one of the learning pods at MySecureKid’s facility in Green Valley (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

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