Editor's note: Soledad O'Brien chronicles the NewMe Accelerator journey in "Black in America: The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley," at 8 p.m., 11 p.m., and 2 a.m. ET on February 11 and February 12 on CNN.
(CNN) - As a young teen, Wesley Williams believed his only career option was to work at a local warehouse in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
“I wasn’t planning on going to college, I wasn’t planning on graduating high school, I was planning on doing nothing with my life,” he said.
Now, nearly 10 years later, he is a college graduate and an IT administrator and developer.
“I would be either dead or in jail," he said. "Those would have been my options had it not been for BDPA.”
BDPA, formerly known as the Black Data Processing Associates, is a non-profit organization founded to increase the number of minorities in information technology related industries.
In high school, Williams had no interest in academics and spent most of his time hanging out with the wrong crowd. His mother pushed him to join the local BDPA chapter. There, he discovered a love for technology.
Employment in scientific and technical services is projected to add about 2.7 million new jobs by 2018. African-Americans made up 13% of IT jobs, and women made up 25% in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Janice Cuny, the National Science Foundation's director of computing education, says the low number of minorities and women in science, technology, engineering and math fields is a serious concern.
"Together, women and minorities make up more than two-thirds of our population," she said. "We cannot afford to cede that much talent, creativity and breadth of perspective if we are to remain globally competitive in a world that is becoming increasingly well educated and technologically advanced."
BDPA has more than 40 branches nationwide. Each year, its High School Computer Competition program teaches 800 to 1,000 students how to write computer code, build functional websites and create business presentations.
“We already know that the students use technology, we are trying to show them how they can be involved in creating technology, ” said Wayne Hicks, executive director of the organization's Education and Technology Foundation.
To give more young people a boost, BDPA will partner next year with Tech Corps, a nonprofit that recruits technology professionals to teach hands-on skills to young student.
“We are realizing that we share the same goal and because of resources being scarce, we are finding ways to work together,” Hicks said.
Tech Corps was established in 1995 and a few years ago, started their TechieClub, which targets students in grades three to five. National director Lisa Chambers said they realized the needed to engage students well before their teen years.
“If we wait to try to capture kids until high school, we have less of a population to capture because so many of them have already fallen out of interest," she said.
Since 2009, 100 elementary schools have implemented the program and more than 500 students from a variety of backgrounds have participated.
Tech Corps also engages ethnic minorities and girls by partnering with the National Society of Black Engineers.
Currently the Tech Corps and Black Engineers junior chapter provides young girls with technology training their schools don’t offer.
“High school was just the basics. It wasn’t in depth, it wasn’t enough to get me really interested in science and STEM fields,” said Victoria Richards, who is now a college student, pursing a degree in environmental engineering.
For Richards, one the best parts of the program was hands-on experience and resources, like college-level engineering labs, where she built electrical circuits and learned hydraulics engineering.
Support and encouragement from mentors drove her to pursue an engineering career, she said. The National Society of Black Engineers gave her a scholarship and connections, too.
“Before the program, I have never seen an African-American engineer," she said. "it just helps so much to see someone that looks like you doing what you want to do.”
BDPA students have gone on to technical careers, and come back to help, too. Wesley Williams is now the student program director for the group's Atlanta chapter.
“It is a debt that I owe BDPA for changing my life," he said.