As Lockdown Deepens Digital Divide, CORE Gives PCs to Students in Need
April 29, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 29, 2020
5881 Leesburg Pike Suite 204
Falls Church, VA 22041
Donna Walker James,
703.931.7346, ext. 5
FALLS CHURCH, Va. — With most of the country under lockdown, home computers have never been more essential. Millions of Americans are now working, studying and shopping from the safety of their homes, and using video conferencing apps to ease the pain of social distancing. But what about those without a computer?
According to a 2019 Pew Research study, more than four-in-ten American households with incomes below $30,000 don’t have computers or broadband internet access. Before the pandemic, those without a computer could head over to the library to complete online tasks, such as homework assignments and job applications. This is no longer an option. Even as some libraries have boosted their Wi-Fi so it can be used from the parking lot, the computers themselves remain shuttered inside.
Getnet Tadesse found it very difficult to live without a computer when the shutdown began. Before moving to the United States, Mr. Tadesse had been a database administrator in Ethiopia. He is currently working as a driver for Uber and Lyft and is taking computer classes with the nonprofit Computer CORE in the hopes that it will help him land a job in IT here in the United States. In the wake of COVID-19, Mr. Tadesse’s driving work dried up. The extra time to study would have been a silver lining, only the used computer he had bought three years ago had died and he didn’t have the money to buy another. “COVID has affected me both economically and academically,” Mr. Tadesse said. “It has been really challenging.”
Donna Walker James, executive director of Computer CORE, was hearing similar stories from many of their students. Like most organizations, Computer CORE had to transition from in-person to online lessons in March, but they faced a serious problem: over a quarter of their 95 students didn’t have a computer at home.
As social distancing orders took effect, Computer CORE staff reached out to corporations and nonprofits that had previously donated computers, but increased demand meant donations were harder to come by than ever. In order to bring students into the digital fold amidst the lockdown, Computer CORE was going to have to buy the computers themselves.
“We used Alexandria’s Spring2ACTion online giving day as a springboard,” Ms. James said, adding, “this was the first time we were requesting funds to purchase laptops for students.” Using the money raised, Ms. James went online and quickly bought up as many refurbished laptops as she could. In the coming days, she watched out her window as UPS, FedEX and Amazon trucks delivered the boxes. She then loaded them into her car and drove them over to the now-deserted Computer CORE parking lot where, donning a face mask and gloves, she handed them to students one by one. “The students were very appreciative,” Ms. James said, “especially when we told them that the computers were theirs to keep.”
Since receiving his laptop from Computer CORE, Mr. Tadesse spends his days studying online. “I am reading and watching videos about different software programs and coding languages. Getting the computer was really a big help.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the economic benefits of computer skills into sharp relief. According to Ms. James, almost all of Computer CORE’s students have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Of the few still working, most are on the front lines doing low-wage essential work in food service and healthcare. A lack of computer skills holds many back from career advancement. “Some of our students are up for promotions but can’t take them because the next step at their place of work requires computer skills,” James said. “Overall, our hope for them is a job, or a better job, higher wages, better hours, health and retirement benefits, and maybe even the chance to work from home.”
About Computer CORE
Computer CORE (Community Outreach and Education) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to help under-resourced adults in northern Virginia acquire the technological and life skills needed to pursue their career aspirations. Immigrants and women make up a high proportion of Computer CORE’s students and 99% are people of color.