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Internship Spotlight: Roy Abouhamad

Kelly Salance

At the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation, we strongly believe in creating equity within our communities, workplace, and society. One way we achieve this is through workforce development programs — programs and internships that provide opportunities for job seekers to expand their skill sets while gaining exposure to the workforce. In our London office, we partner with HeadStart London to do just that.

HeadStart London is an organization that brings together industry leaders, charities, and young people to bridge the gap between schools and work. Through HeadStart , youth aged 16-18, participate in employability workshops, interviews and eventually have the opportunity for work with partner businesses. Zendesk has partnered with HeadStart since 2015, hiring cohorts of students for week-long internships. One such student was Roy who interned in April 2017. While here, Roy made lasting connections, applied and was selected for an internship with our Sales team this summer.  Recently, we caught up with Roy as his finished his summer internship to learn more about his experience.

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What made you choose HeadStart?

I started in the National Citizen Service program, an organization that offers 15 to 17 year olds the opportunity to try new things, learn new skills, and meet new people. While at NCS, I attended a HeadStart workshop and learned what a cool program it was. HeadStart is designed to allow young people to get ahead in their career if they volunteer at least 16 hours of their time in the local community. While I was a bit skeptical about the program at first, one of the potential employers caught my eye, Zendesk.

Roy with the other HeadStart interns during his week long internship last year.

Roy with the other HeadStart interns during his week long internship last year.

How was your first week of work experience?

I joined the Customer Success team and really enjoyed it. It was a totally new experience for me as I have not worked in an office environment before but everyone was so nice and accommodating. I learned so much that week and my two big takeaways were learning how to be a part of a a team and how to work towards a deadline before. Both important skills that I just hadn’t had a lot of exposure to before being in an office.

How has your time been in the Sales Department for your Summer internship?

I have really enjoyed it! I spent the summer researching people that we can contact within businesses and inputting that information into Salesforce. It is a whole new skill set I learned this summer. The highlight for me is definitely being a part of the team and the general working environment.

What advice would you give to other potential HeadStart Interns?

Work hard and try to do things that will make you memorable at Zendesk. I continually emailed to see if there were any potential summer internships which resulted in me being interviewed for this internship role.

What are you career goals and aspirations?

I am currently on my way to University and am waiting to find out which one I got into. From there, I eventually want to become a software engineer working for a technology company. My time at Zendesk strengthened my dream of working as a coder in the tech industry while providing me the work experience I need to get there.

Roy is one of the 55 week-long interns that Zendesk has hosted over the last three and a half years. Want to host interns in your office? Reach out to info@neighborfoundation to learn more about how we run our program or to HeadStart directly if you want to launch this program in your office.

The Importance of Trust

Kelly Salance

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At Zendesk, we know that building trust is vital when creating long-standing relationships with your customers, but really, what is trust and why is it so important? In essence, trust is a feeling of security you have, based on the idea that someone is reliable, honest, good, and will do the right thing. You believe in the person or group's integrity and trust develops when people interact and like the results. Building trust is not easy especially with an entire community, yet it is the foundation for any strong relationship. That is exactly why when Projectos Amigos Das Crinças (PAC) opened their new community center in the São Domingos neighborhood in São Paulo, creating a foundation of trust was their number one priority.

PAC is a non-profit whose mission is to promote the personal and social development of at risk youth 0 to 18 years old. In addition to PAC’s two children’s homes, their community center is one that has become the heart of it’s neighborhood. As we know it today, PAC’s thriving center serves over 120 youth in the neighborhood and offers social and educational activities (such as ballet and art classes), playgrounds, income generating workshops for families, and psychosocial care. But the question is how did PAC establish trust with the families of the neighborhood to become a shining light in a sometimes grim area?


The answer is actually quite simple. When PAC first opened their doors they built a free library available to everyone in the neighborhood. Free of charge, anyone can stop by and borrow a book. This was the first time residents of the neighborhood didn’t have to pay to check something out. Rosane Chene, Founding Director of PAC, points to this simple gesture as symbol for how they hoped to be a part of the community. “We used this library, as our way to show we trust the people of São Domingos, so they can trust us.”

Since the early days of the community center, PAC has always founded itself in listening and being part of the neighborhood. Over the last two years, PAC has listened and understands the need to expand their presence and reach. With this in mind, they are taking on a new challenge of building a second community center in a neighboring area, Pirituba. The vision is to develop and construct an adequate space to increase social and cultural inclusion. With help from Zendesk, PAC was able purchase an empty plot of land, getting one step closer to making this vision a reality.

Rendering of PAC's second community center.

Rendering of PAC's second community center.

From an empty lot, PAC plans to constructing a colorful 765 square metered building complete with a cafeteria, classrooms, a computer room, a dance studio, meeting spaces, and office spaces to serve over 2,500 families and their 300+ children and teens. To help visualize this space, we worked with PAC to create a VR experience of the Community Center. Through this and the renderings, you can clearly envision this beautiful space empowering youth and their families to grow, learn and ultimately drive this neighborhood of São Paulo to be a more equal place.

As you can imagine, when asked what the first thing PAC will do in their new space, Chene replied, “Listen, learn and invite everyone in to be a part of our family.” Through opening its doors to all the community, PAC’s community centers are a trusted and loving place helping to lift up many children and their entire families.

Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders

Kelly Salance

Finding a job is a challenging process, particularly if you are a young adult entering the workforce for the first time. It can be difficult to understand where to start your search, how to apply, and what are the best ways to market yourself. The challenge becomes increasingly difficult if you are in a place like Brazil, where the unemployment rate is alarmingly high for young people. In 2017, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Brazil was 30.5%. With a staggering 6.6 million young people (aged 18 -24) not in school or at work, what can be done?


Enter Instituto da Oportunidade Social (IOS) — a non-profit in São Paulo with a mission to seek, support and train young people (15-29 years old) who have less access to job opportunities.Founded in 1998, IOS has always put the youth at the center of their mission. Their core objective is to bring technological access to low income youth through professional training programs. From business management and entrepreneurship trainings to technical IT software courses, IOS offers a variety of classes, support workshops, and trainings to prepare young people to enter the workforce.

Despite 2017 being economically difficult for young adults in Brazil, IOS students saw an 18% increase in entering the job market from the previous year. In all, 1,016 IOS students became employed. Moreover, of the students who graduated from IOS in 2017, at least 35% are working and 15% enrolled in higher education. These numbers indicate that over half of IOS trainees are in better social and economic opportunities after completing their time at IOS.

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When a young person arrives at IOS, they are doing more than just attending trainings. They work to gain knowledge and the skill sets to own their destiny. IOS is preparing their students for formal employment in a competitive job market and showing that we can address the youth unemployment challenge to achieve lasting change.

Work in Brazil? Partner with IOS and learn how to hire a student in your office here.

And to learn more about Zendesk’s partnership with IOS here.  


Generations come together, one bike ride at a time

Kelly Salance

There’s something liberating and peaceful about being able to take in nature from the seat of a bicycle, something Ole Kassow understands quite well. An avid cyclist, the Copenhagen resident began to wonder: how could a community get seniors with limited mobility back on bikes so they could experience that joy once again?

In 2012 Kassow and Dorthe Pederson decided that they had the answer. They founded Cycling Without Age with the purchase of five trishaws, and since then the nonprofit has spread like wildfire, with chapters springing up in 38 countries, including Singapore. Like its fellow chapters all over the globe, Singapore’s Cycling Without Age’s mission is simple: trained volunteers from local universities and companies such as Zendesk take seniors out for rides in trishaws, giving elders an opportunity to not just be outside but to tell their stories and connect with new people.

It’s a small act of kindness that can go a long way, one that takes only an hour of someone’s time, says Marieke Bink, director of the Singapore chapter. Bink, who oversees 198 volunteers and programs aimed at connecting Singapore’s youths with their elders, spoke recently about the chapter’s plans for the future and how her involvement has changed her life.

Marieke Bink, Director of Cycling Without Age - Singapore. Illustration by  Chelsea Larsson .

Marieke Bink, Director of Cycling Without Age - Singapore. Illustration by Chelsea Larsson.

How did you get involved in Cycling Without Age?

When I moved from Copenhagen to Singapore, I had worked for 20 years in health care, mostly with seniors. I wanted to get involved with the community, and to do something close to my profession. When I got settled in, I called my friend, Pernille Bussone, who started the Cycling Without Age chapter in Singapore and as timing would have it, she had to step down and asked me to take over. Since then the chapter has become more of a formal organization, and in May 2017 we officially registered it as a nonprofit. We’re always working on how we can give back and do more. 

Cycling Without Age actively works to connect the young people of Singapore with their elders. How do you train them to work with seniors?

Here we have senior activity centers that are mainly for the poorest people, but we can do more with these centers. They don’t have many activities other than karaoke and bingo. And there is a big age gap here—the youth are very busy and not interested in seniors. So we started asking, how can we combine these two? How can we set up this intergenerational bonding? 

So that’s where the aging simulation suit comes in. It’s heavy, it’s hard to bend the knees, you have earmuffs on so you can’t hear well. Everyone’s so happy when they take it off, and we say, “Yeah, you get to take it off, but seniors can’t.”

To make the most of the experience, we also give the students communication skills training. We try to encourage them to use nonverbal communication, since there are language issues as well as hearing problems. We encourage the seniors to talk about their lives—we say that the ride is free, please pay with your stories.

For seniors who don’t get out much, what sort of effect does getting on a trishaw have on them?

There’s a 90-year-old lady who lives 300 meters from the beach but who can’t make it there, despite loving the ocean. She’s in a wheelchair, and it’s just too far for her, and there’s a highway in between. And for her 70-year-old daughter, the wheelchair is too heavy to push, so she has not been to the beach in 17 years. We were able to take her on a ride in a trishaw, giving her a chance to see the ocean for the first time in years. It’s those little things that are why we do this work.

What are you goals for this chapter of Cycling Without Age?

Our goal is to have at least 50 trishaws taking seniors out on rides throughout Singapore. I also dream of having a social workshop where we train youths to be mechanics for the bikes. That would give them an opportunity for a job and would save us money—and most important, it would allow us to keep the bikes functioning. Safety is a huge priority for us.

Zendesk CEO, Mikkel Svane, taking two seniors out for our inaugural ride.

Zendesk CEO, Mikkel Svane, taking two seniors out for our inaugural ride.

People say, “You don’t put seniors on a bike, they want to go in an air-conditioned car.” But it’s not about going from Point A to Point B. It’s about individualized attention. There was a study recently that found that social isolation is even more deadly than smoking. So what do we do about loneliness? When these seniors ride in the trishaw, they then have a new story to tell. They’ve met someone new, and then they have this energy that keeps them going for a few weeks, until the next ride. It’s such as little token of generosity, but it can be life changing.

Making a house a home with Habitat for Humanity Singapore

Kelly Salance

One Saturday morning this July a one-thousand-strong army of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, armed with paint brushes and cleaning supplies, descended on a half dozen of Singapore’s neighborhoods to complete a simple mission: to clean and revitalize the homes of seniors and low-income families in need.


For the second year in a row, Habitat for Humanity’s Home Sweep Home project focused on Singapore’s rental public housing, which is reserved for citizens who earn $1,500 SGD or less per month. These flats—usually one or two rooms with a kitchen and a bathroom—tend to be in older buildings where the housing authority maintains just the stairwells, lifts, and corridors, says Shila Naidu, resource development manager for Habitat for Humanity Singapore.

Before and after of one apartment.

Before and after of one apartment.

“Many of these vulnerable elderly are unable to maintain decent living conditions in their homes due to either low income, low social support, or physical/mental disabilities,” Naidu says. “In fact, most homes have not been cleaned at all for years. The lack of proper sanitation in these homes have resulted in poor living conditions such as infestation of bed bugs, which causes uncomfortable sleepless nights, badly stained walls, and dirt everywhere, including in eating spaces. Consequently, the health of these homeowners declines rapidly in these conditions.”


Beyond cleaning and repainting, Home Sweep Home will also focus on helping residents with hoarding tendencies to clear out dangerous clutter, which can pose a fire hazard to not just the unit itself but the entire housing block. “We are dedicated to the rehabilitation of homes through practical means such as fumigation, cleaning, and painting,” Naidu says. “We seek to provide homeowners with the strength to live the rest of their lives with a restored sense of dignity.”

The genesis of Home Sweep Home stems from two local Habitat for Humanity initiatives: Project HomeWorks and UnLitter Red Dot. UnLitter Red Dot, Naidu says, aims to create a more civic-minded society that avoids littering. So while some volunteers will be working directly in the flats, others will focus on cleaning up litter in the surrounding neighborhoods. “Many people say Singapore is a clean city, but sadly, we are a ‘cleaned’ city with an army of sweepers and cleaners picking up after us everyday,” Naidu says.

While last year’s event led to the cleaning of 120 homes, this year Habitat for Humanity has narrowed the scope to 43 of the toughest units. “This year we wanted to be really selective and only choose homes of the usual Project HomeWorks severity,” Naidu says. “We wanted to focus on homes with real need, thus making the decision to focus on intensive cases even if the numbers look less impressive on paper. We want to make the deepest impact possible with the donor money and volunteer hours put in.”

While Habitat for Humanity continues to fine-tune Home Sweep Home, some elements remain unchanged, such as how volunteers are encouraged to interact with the homeowners. “Volunteers are asked to include the homeowner in the home cleaning process in some way, no matter how small, so as to give the homeowner a sense of ownership and agency in the entire process,” Naidu says. “The home rehabilitation process should be a partnership between volunteers and homeowner, so interaction is one way to facilitate this.”

Those interactions can go a long way toward improving the lives of seniors in need, many of whom now can sleep easy without fear of bed bugs. “Many homeowners express their heartfelt appreciation toward the volunteers for taking the time off to help rehabilitate their homes,” Naidu says. “Most importantly, most homeowners say that the newly rehabilitated home empowers them to maintain the clean conditions of their homes and to live with strength and independence.” 

Get involved with Habitat for Humanity Singapore today!

Making a Difference From the Heart

Kelly Salance

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Fifteen years ago, as Henry and Christine Laimer read the Sunday paper in their Singapore home, they stumbled across a story that would end up changing not just their lives, but the lives of thousands of the people on the island. The article detailed the efforts to feed the hungry with the unsold bread bakeries sent to landfills every day, and as the Austrian expats read, an idea began to germinate: what if bakeries in Singapore could be convinced to donate their leftovers, too?

And with that, the Laimers embarked on a journey that led to the creation of Food from the Heart, a nonprofit that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade and half. From its initial Bread Run, which drew 120 volunteers, Food from the Heart now boasts 1,700 altruists who divert 28,000 kilograms of bread every month from the landfills to hungry residents all over the island.

That mission meets a very real need, said Jade Tan, for Food from the Heart. A recent study indicates that 105,000 households in Singapore subsist on less than $1,500 SD per month, which means a little more than one out of every ten residences need food assistance. Those figures play a large part in why Food from the Heart continually expands its services to the community, which now includes more than 50 self-collection centers where residents can pick up packages consisting of cooking oil, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and other essentials.

“Many of these families struggle to cope with medical, school, and utility bills, let alone put a nutritious meal on the table,” Tan said. “These ration packs go a long way in helping ensure the 8,190 people in the Community Food Pack program receive the nourishment to go on with their daily lives.”

Infogrpahic from Food From the Heart. 

Infogrpahic from Food From the Heart. 

In 2017, Food from the Heart distributed nearly 29,000 food packs to those in need to almost 8,000 beneficiaries, Tan said. Meanwhile, the nonprofit also directs food to 41 welfare homes through the Market Place program, which offers items with damaged packaging (or near-expiration) collected from NTUC Fairprice outlets across the island. That program alone has led to the distribution of $5.52 million worth of food to 35,500 residents in 2017.


Meanwhile, the organization also seeks to increase the number of School Goodie Bag programs on the island, an effort that seeks to combat hunger in Singapore’s schools. “We are currently working with 28 schools on the School Goodie Bag program to serve 5,600 student beneficiaries and their families each month,” Tan said. “We distribute food packs of non-perishable items to 50 of the neediest students in each school to help their families defray living expenses.”

Those food packs include items with high nutritional value, such as milk, oatmeal, and breakfast cereals. “This is in line with our goal to both widen and deepen our contributions to the community as we strive to impact more individuals,” Tan said.

Beyond filling the plates of those in need, Food from the Heart has expanded its services to focus on quality-of-life issues—for example, Toys from the Heart provides toys to children in need, and Birthdays from the Heart gives the underprivileged a chance to celebrate their birthdays with cake and socializing. And the Clean Plate campaign encourages young students to be mindful about wasting food, especially since they often share classrooms with other children who don’t get enough to eat.

Zendesk volunteers helping to sort and bag food. 

Zendesk volunteers helping to sort and bag food. 

Programs like these—whether its distributing bread, groceries, or toys—are powered by dedication and compassion to bring real change to communities across Singapore. Yet, they can not do it alone. Learn more about how you can volunteer with Food From the Heart here.  And as if volunteering doesn't make you feel good enough, tweet at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a picture of you volunteering with FFTH and we will send you some Foundation swag!

Building Community for Adults with Disabilities in Montpellier

Kelly Salance

For students of German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the themes explored by Montpellier’s La Bulle Bleue theater troupe will be readily familiar, ones that lead to an uncomfortable question: how can outsiders express themselves in the face of a society that cannot—or will not—accept them for who they are?

Fassbinder often employed non-professional actors to explore that question as well as to deconstruct standard cinema and theater tropes, and so it’s fitting that La Bulle Bleue’s theater group is comprised of 14 actors with developmental disabilities who fearlessly shed light on their inner lives and experiences.

“It is a question of allowing every citizen to have access to an artistic practice beyond his or her difficulties—the essential stake of allowing everyone to be able to develop artistic potential and to be able to express it,” says Stéphanie Teillais-Blandamour, La Bulle Bleue spokesperson. “It’s an artistic and political question. Artists with disabilities have significant artistic potential, and they must be accompanied to enable them to develop it and to express it. It’s a process of self-confidence and emancipation.”

That challenge—to help artists with disabilities to realize their artistic potential—is just part of La Bulle Bleue’s mission, which is to serve and empower adults with developmental disabilities in Montpellier’s community. Opened in February 2012 as a pilot program for the Culture Santé Handicap et Dépendance in the Occitanie region of southern France, La Bulle Bleue provides volunteers from a range of artistic disciplines—theater, food, and gardening—who instruct and guide its 46 clients.

While the theater group enters the final stage of its three-part Beware of Fassbinder! project, the staff of La Bulle Bleue’s catering and gardening services are exploring creativity in their own ways, from experimenting with various cuisines to creating an inviting environment surrounding the theater.

For the catering service, which Zendesk hires for internal events, that means using fresh, locally sourced ingredients prepared under the watchful eye of a local culinary professional. “Training is provided by the chefs, and there are also one-off trainings based on themes,” says Teillais-Blandamour. “The cooks are autonomous and do the preparation, but they need the support of the cook-educator.”

Those catering employees do more than cook and serve meals to local businesses; for example, from October 2017 through June 2018, they participated in workshops with members of France Alzheimer Hérault that were designed to stimulate fading memories.

La Bulle Bleue intentionally combines the catering service with its cultural projects, Teillais-Blandamour says. “The two aspects are combined in a common project of access to culture and time for exchange, sharing, and discovery around the senses,” she says. “We take action to create shared artistic or leisure time. ” This past June in partnership with FAF-LF, they hosted 'dinner in the dark' (repas dans le noir), where supper guest were blindfolded to simulate being visually imparted and having to rely on your other senses. 

The secret to La Bulle Bleue's success is combining innovative with inclusivity - always looking to see how to push the boundaries of convention and bring a traditionally marginalized group to the center stage (as well as kitchen and garden).  

Interesting in attending a theater performance or using La Bulle Bleue’s catering services?Head over to their website to learn more!

Montpellier's symbol of Progress

Kelly Salance

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A quick walk from our Montpellier Zendesk office, across the Pont Jean Zuccarelli, the short bridge that arches over the city’s winding River Lez, stands an angular structure of azure glass and metal—the Town Hall—that conjures thoughts of Montpellier’s progress while mimicking the relentless movement of the burbling waters at its base.

Designed by architect Jean Nouvel (who designed adventurous buildings such as the Palace of Culture and Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland; the Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain; and the Louvre Abu Dhabi) and Montpellier’s own François Fontès, the Town Hall’s parallelepiped—in other words, a three-dimensional parallelogram—dimensions reflect the Port Marianne district’s steady expansion over the past half century.


Inaugurated in November 2011 by former Mayor Helen Mandroux, the €130 million building was constructed over a four-year period by Bec Construction and Castel & Fromaget (Fayat Group) to serve as a social hub for Montpellier’s citizens, where they could conduct business, throw weddings, or just take in the beauty of their city.

The structure’s mesmerizing design has not gone unnoticed. “Inspiration for the unique form came from the previous town hall, the Hotel de Région, which was loosely based on the Arc de Triumph,” wrote Benjamin Blankenbehler of Architecture Revived in 2015. “The Regional Hall attempted to digitize the classic Arc de Triumph icon into a gridded modern object, and this was pushed further by Nouvel, resulting in a profound and complex structure.”

Blankenbehler saw the Town Hall as setting a new standard for modern architecture. “Subtle shifts of color from green to blue create a striking gradient, punctuated by serrated, translucent, and reflective materials,” he wrote. “Voids of gaping spaces render a three-dimensional maze. The lighting could have come straight out of the movie Tron, and oversized murals adorn some ceilings.”

For Nouvel, he sees the building as a portal for both the river and the people of Montpellier. “It stands in the sunshine. It is familiar with and wary of the sun, but it plays an ancestral game,” said Nouvel in a statement on his website. “Shadows, reflections, views through the shutters. . .it has taken up residence along the River Lez. It overlooks it and invites it inside, too. It welcomes the river, lets it in, as a guarantee of freshness and vibrant light. It lives on the edge of a large park and the city, besieged by trees. The cobblestones from the square slip right inside the lobby and down to the water.”

When designing the building, Nouvel decided that it needed to offer changing views of the city (which it’s projectable shutters with adjustable louvers achieve nicely). “It is an urban interior, a reinterpretation of the thousands of reasons why people live together, go and visit, or entertain each other,” Nouvel said. “With its trees, gardens, terraces, water, freshness, shadows, light, angles of view, filters, images, and interaction, it seeks to be hospitable and optimistic, aware that its role is to invite all Montpellier residents inside.”