How Y.O.U helped ME

Growing up in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio had its challenges. The schools I attended never had the latest textbooks, never mind laptops or tablets.  While suburban sports teams had cable and phone companies sponsoring their playing fields, our sports teams had outdated jerseys and well-used equipment. No matter how hard we tried we never seemed to compare academically to suburban schools.

Sports helped me keep my mind off the distractions.  This journey of mine started with my middle school basketball coach, Damon Loretz. Mr. Loretz pushed me to rise above my surroundings. He was the one who persuaded me to sign up for Upward Bound, a program I grew to love. Upward Bound is a year-round college-prep program designed for academically qualified Cleveland Municipal School District high school students who were either first-generation college students or from low-income households.

Starting at age 12, I spent five long Upward Bound summers at Baldwin Wallace University taking up college courses, living in college dorms, and building lifelong friendships. I even got a biweekly stipend of $30 for attending class sessions. At the time I thought, “Wow, I never had this much cash in my pocket before.” I felt different, powerful, and hopeful. This money allowed me to play on three sports teams and participate as a member of student government instead of what would have been a required part-time job. However, by the summer of my junior year, the need for additional finances began to set in.

That same summer Terry Webb, the assistant director of the Upward Bound program, handpicked a group of qualified students and told us about a new partnership with an organization that would forever change my life, Youth Opportunity Unlimited (Y.O.U.), a nonprofit workforce development provider based in Cleveland.

Y.O.U’s mission is to support teens and young adults in Northeast Ohio as they prepare to enter the workforce. Through this partnership, I worked that summer as an Upward Bound student assistant and received my first lesson on the importance of digital literacy. I learned about and used technology to interact and communicate with parents and students about upcoming events, meetings, and class changes. I also applied my digital literacy skills to work collectively with other student workers on research projects for the program. I’m still not sure what Terry saw in me, but I was determined to learn everything I could involving this thing called Digital literacy.

The money I made from Y.O.U. that summer helped my mom pay for my senior dues and college application fees. Though money was an excellent incentive, little did I know the more powerful impact was learning the true value of being a good employee and getting a head start on technology that trained me for the future and continues to expand my opportunities.

Nine years after completing the Upward Bound Program, I am using those same fundamentals as the Case Manager for DigitalC’s new ReStart Boot Camp Program. ReStart has touched more than 30 community providers to advance digital skills acquisition. One of those partner organizations is Youth Opportunity Unlimited. Small world right? I manage the ReStart participants through the Bootcamp Program. I constantly meet with our provider groups on coordination of facilities, curriculum, certification processes, and orchestrating our five current certificate offerings. One of those same  Y.O.U. programs is being delivered right here in our offices at DigitalC. I’m thrilled to work closely with the 16 young women who have enrolled in the 8-week program. It’s really rewarding to see youth from a similar background as mine get trained for future technology opportunities that they are yet aware of.

Having been able to take advantage of the fundamentals that Y.O.U. offered has been an ongoing bridge to my success. My interaction with Y.O.U. has come full-circle. I am positive that the lessons the current and future students are learning from this program will impact their lives forever and will ultimately lead to many other success stories like mine.

A Technology Bootcamp Offers Security for the Summer and Skills for a Lifetime

One (of many!) odd things about me as a child was my obsession with reading the newspaper every day.  Growing up in the 80’s, newspaper subscriptions were a staple in my suburban, middle-class neighborhood, but I’m pretty sure most were being read by adults, not eight-year-olds.  Over twenty years later, and despite the decline of the newspaper industry, I remain a steadfast subscriber to my city’s local paper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  It was while perusing the Sunday edition recently that I read a story that stopped me in my tracks.  Focused on the upcoming summer vacation for local high school students, the article featured quote after quote from youth in the city afraid of the impending summer break, due to the rampant violence in their neighborhoods.  Teenagers so fearful of being caught in the crossfire of a neighborhood shootout that they said they’d rather be in school year round.  

"It's going to be hectic this summer," said Dre, a 16-year-old sophomore. "There's going to be a lot of killing."

"I'm hoping to stay out the way [this summer]. I don't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not trying to get shot. Especially if I'm not doing nothing."

"We can't go outside or just sit outside because you can be caught in a crossfire," said Dontasia Wall, a 16-year-old who lives not far from the school in the city's Hough neighborhood.

"People have already been dying throughout the year," she said. "When it gets hot. It'll be worse."

As a Cleveland resident and aforementioned newspaper addict, I’m sadly familiar with the issues surrounding crime in my city, but this story told in this perspective, was a new narrative for me.  I flashed back to my high school summer breaks when my biggest concern was how I’d earn enough at my part time job to buy concert tickets, while still getting plenty of time at the beach with my friends.  Meanwhile, the youth profiled in the article spoke candidly of their plans to stay indoors as much as possible, all summer.  Several said they would sleep to pass the time.  Their hopelessness translated across the page.

A few of the students mentioned being lucky enough to land summer jobs that would keep them busy, with less time to spend out on the streets.  One such jobs program highlighted in the article is the Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) Summer Employment Program. The popular program connects area employers with young adults ages 14-24 for 6-week summer jobs.   Last year, the program employed over 2,500 youth, with approximately 100 participants being offered permanent positions after completing their summer stints.  

This summer, my organization DigitalC, a local nonprofit focused on leveraging technology for community impact, is proud to partner with Y.O.U. as a Summer Employment Program worksite, with a twist.  Sixteen girls and young women (and I’m so proud to say our entire class is female!!) at the DigitalC office are spending eight weeks in a technology skills-building bootcamp, modeled off of DigitalC’s ReStart Program.  

The bootcamp, which launched June 20th, began with basic digital literacy (typing, using the internet, creating and emailing a resume, etc.).  Since then, the participants have moved on to Microsoft Office training, where they are taking a deeper dive into Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, and PowerPoint.  Upon completion, they’ll have the opportunity to sit for a Microsoft certification exam that earns them an industry-recognized credential certificate.  Following the Microsoft training, the girls will also be introduced to coding and programming concepts as well as networking and hardware fundamentals.  The bootcamp will wrap up in mid-August with a chance for the participants to meet and hear from women working in technology, offering advice and guidance on building a career using tech skills.

As we enter into the third week of the boot camp, summer is in full swing and Cleveland is once again filled with the vibrancy of long days of sunshine and endless fun, outdoor activities.  Meanwhile, I can’t stop thinking about those students in that Plain Dealer article, stuck inside, waiting for summer to end.  Avoiding bullets.  Wishing they had somewhere, anywhere to go, where they could feel safe.  I think about the girls I see every day in our boot camp class and wonder where they would be if they weren’t here?  Where do they go after they leave?  I wonder how I, and we as a community, can do more?  

I’m so grateful to Y.O.U. for the opportunity to offer DigitalC’s ReStart Program to the 16 young women in our group.  I see their enthusiasm and excitement to learn and I’m glad they have a space that is not just safe, but also full of opportunities for empowerment and personal growth.  But I remain worried about those left out.  Those sitting at home, waiting for the school year to start. Those to whom ‘summer break’ has a totally different meaning.  It is my hope that this one bootcamp, while impactful, is not the end of the story.  That this pilot program and others like it continue to grow, and that we as a community do more, so that fewer of our city’s youth have to spend their summer in hiding.


Midtown Tech Hive: Community + Technology

Midtown Tech Hive: Community + Technology

As DigitalC focused its work at the intersection of community and technology, the need for a new type of space began to emerge - a neighborhood-based space which welcomed a range of users from those seeking basic digital literacy to technology professionals. This space would welcome members to work, learn, and collaborate around community and technology.

Why a Dedicated High Speed Broadband Network to Connect the Unconnected is a Game Changer

Why a Dedicated High Speed Broadband Network to Connect the Unconnected is a Game Changer

Recently, DigitalC launched the Connect the Unconnected program. It has received strong media coverage in the Cleveland PlainDealer, WCPN (NPR)'s Sound of Ideas and in blog postings around the world. In this blog posting, I offer details on the technical design, the solution architecture, and our hopes for America's first, dedicated gigabit network designed specifically to support the unserved and underserved members of our community.

Digital Inclusion Week in Cleveland

During the week of May 8th, Cleveland participated in Digital Inclusion Week (DIW), a national initiative that seeks to promote online access and technology skill-building in efforts to reduce digital disparities in communities.

The week included roundtable discussions, city council meetings and talks surrounding the problems of digital inclusion in the city Cleveland. Among topics covered were AT&T's redlining of neighborhoods, DigitalC's Connect the Unconnected Program and statistical and analytical work regarding the issues of connection, employment, and education. 

National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) initiated Digital Inclusion Week across the country to pinpoint and bring about alliances among communities in order to address issues of connectivity equality for everyone. NDIA advocates an inclusive digital entry point if we are to give everyone a chance to enter into the digital economy. 

DigitalC hosted a ribbon cutting for its Connect The Unconnected Program at CMHA's Cedar High Rise to launch America's first high-speed broadband (as defined by the FCC) Internet access in public housing. The internet access serves as a backbone to our Restart Program, a digital skills training program for qualified Cleveland populations. 

These two programs are supported in partnership with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) as well as our many partners teaching the courses for digital literacy and skills training.