In many ways, the seed was planted on a chilly late-November night in 2019.

That’s when more than 300 Cisco employees swapped their comfortable beds for the cold, hard pavement of the company’s San Jose, California headquarters parking lot.

The Sleep Out event was designed to raise both awareness and critical funds to ensure Covenant House can provide food, shelter, clothing, and essential services to homeless young people. Youth homelessness is especially acute right in Cisco’s backyard — Santa Clara County suffers from the third-highest rate of chronic homelessness in the United States.

Less than two years later, on a warm, sunny, late-spring day, the seed reached full bloom.

On May 20, 2021, Covenant House officially opened a new facility in the city of Santa Clara, with Cisco providing operational funding, connectivity, and assistance with their technology implementation.

Occupying a former motel, Covenant House Santa Clara provides housing for 18- to 24-year-olds for up to two years, or until they are ready to move into their own homes. Services include three nutritious meals per day, onsite case management, mental health counseling, education and employment support, and access to long-term housing opportunities.

“Our journey to Santa Clara started five years ago,” said Bill Bedrossian, CEO of Covenant House California. “We knew we needed to be here, but we didn’t know how to do it because they kept telling me there is no money. But the momentum really took off on that cold night in November 2019 when hundreds of Cisco employees slept with us in a parking lot and wanted to do something in their community for young people.”

Customer Zero starts “California Dreaming” to make a difference

Cisco has committed to improving the lives of one billion people globally by 2025 (and we’re already at 716 million!). One way to meet that goal is by working with the private and public sectors to reduce homelessness around the world. “The power of public/private partnerships is astounding,” said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. “The ability for us to really work together is the way we’ll solve problems.”

That highly collaborative spirit was on full display as multiple organizations – inside and outside Cisco – raced to make Covenant House Santa Clara a reality.

Cisco’s Customer Zero organization forged partnerships across several internal and external teams to deliver success in just two short months. Within Cisco alone, more than 30 volunteers from wide-ranging organizations – Customer Zero, Digital Enterprise Solutions, Sales, Corporate Affairs, People and Communities, Meraki, and Partner EOS – generously contributed their time during off-hours to accelerate the Covenant House Santa Clara project.

This “California Dreaming” team performed all tasks required to deliver secure connectivity and wireless access to Covenant House Santa Clara, including:

  • Defining the project scope and managing the implementation plan
  • Conducting a feasibility study and site survey to determine access-point density
  • Installing and configuring networking equipment, including nine Meraki Wi-Fi 6 access points (both indoor MR76 and outdoor MR46 models), one Meraki MS210-48FP switch, and one Meraki MX84 router and security appliance
  • Contracting and coordinating outside vendors for cabling and network installation
  • Connecting and testing all equipment to ensure high-speed network connectivity with no blind spots

This successful engagement framework and the “blueprint” of the network design are now being replicated across Covenant House’s other California sites. Among other things, these technologies will help young residents develop their digital skills. There are even plans to train young people to become the first line of IT support for each of their facilities.

“This is an amazing, sacred space that will be home for young people who were facing and are now overcoming homelessness,” said Kevin Ryan, President & CEO of Covenant House International, at the opening of Covenant House Santa Clara. “Cisco made extraordinary gifts so that young people have a safe place to be.”

The Customer Zero team’s current and future impact on the Covenant House as an organization — and all those it serves — is an example of how IT truly can and should be used for good. We are proud of the support we’ve provided for homeless youth in Santa Clara County, and excited to continue our efforts. We’d love to hear about how you are using IT for good — share your experiences and ideas in the comments!

Inside Cisco IT Blog


Joel Barbier

Director, Customer Zero

Customer Zero and Technology Excellence