From left to right, Christian Herradura, Eric You, Jimmy Truong, Cyrus Malapajo, Minhkennedy Pham and Gabriel Estrella. Photo credit: Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS).

With rising graduation and college entry standards, as well as a competitive job market, the need to be technologically savvy is crucial for a student’s future. Comcast believes technology access and regular, hands-on support and mentorship are critical to success. That is why the company helps fund such organizations as the nonprofit social services agency, Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). Comcast recently awarded funding support to ACRS, of which the bulk of the funding was designated to go to the agency’s Southeast Asian Young Men’s Multimedia program, which develops not only multimedia and technology-based career skills, but offers academic support, job searching and opportunities for community dialogue.

“Connecting youth to the advantages of technology will benefit our communities and society in the long-term,” says Diem Ly, external affairs manager for Comcast. “It’s a privilege to help provide that digital access and awareness for youth, families, and communities that need it. As a technology-based company, we can see how far-reaching investing in our young people’s and families’ potential is. That’s why we make this a priority.”

“It’s a natural fit for us to partner with the Asian Counseling and Referral Service,” she continues. “They are a leader in the APA (Asian Pacific American) community and advocate for its causes, among them being digital literacy. Their computer literacy courses serve as an invaluable tool for the young men’s community. We support their multimedia program because it’s a great way to connect young people to technology that can transfer into educational tools and job skills.”

The program is currently producing a short film, anticipated to be released early next year, geared toward a middle school and high school-aged audience. It will address the digital divide in relation to model minority myths. Joseph Mills, facilitator of the Southeast Asian young men’s group, says the issue of digital divide is particularly significant in communities of color.

“We want to allow kids the opportunity to express themselves about issues in the community or about their lives that have special meaning to them,” says Mills. “Other topics we have addressed deal with bicultural identity, the Southeast Asian refugee experience, and issues dealing with drugs and alcohol.”

The program has had far-reaching impact. Minhkennedy Pham, an ACRS volunteer and former member of the young men’s group, appreciated the dialogue on Southeast Asian roots and culture the program offered.

“It gives me an identity, so that I know who I am and so I don’t have to resort to drugs or gangs to affiliate with something,” said Pham.

Pham’s parents emigrated from Vietnam, and he was born in the U.S. And although he has had access to technology his whole life that his parents did not, participating in the group offered him an opportunity to gain technical skills he wouldn’t have otherwise.

In the program, learning how to hold and operate a camera, craft a story and edit video “was a new experience for me,” Pham says. “I had never worked with film or video ever.”

In addition, ACRS was one of 24 organizations to be unanimously approved on Aug. 12 by the Seattle City Council to receive a Technology Matching Fund grant (which is administered by the Community Technology Program of the City’s Department of Information Technology and is funded with cable franchise fees). The City of Seattle will award a total of $320,000 in matching funds to support technology projects across the city. At least 18 of these grants will directly serve immigrant and refugee groups.

ACRS will receive a $19,987 Technology Matching Fund grant for its retail technology class, which will be offered to people with mental illness. In the class, students will learn iPad point-of-sale (POS) systems, computerized cash registers, inventory management and sales reporting. Students will practice their newly acquired retail skills at Café Hope, ACRS’s in-house espresso stand. Other benefactors of the grant include the Filipino Community of Seattle (to be awarded $19,400 to provide a robotics and computer literacy program targeting low-income, at-risk youth of color in grades 8 to 12 who have little or no technology or technical skills), the Lu-Mien American Association (to be awarded $10,000 to use toward the purchase of computers to provide low-income Laotian families basic technology literacy training, particularly school-aged children, seniors and those who lack adequate skills or knowledge to be employable) and the Jack Straw Foundation (to be awarded $15,580 to enable English language learners at the Seattle World School to increase their English literacy, while learning to use portable and computer-based audio technology).

For more information about ACRS and its services, please visit www.acrs.org.