Over the recent school year, 14 teens took part in the Comcast Digital Connectors program at Neighborhood House in Rainier Vista twice a week. The program taught students technology skills, leadership skills and media literacy. Sponsored by Comcast, Digital Connectors consists of 156 hours of training across 12 core competency areas.

“The Comcast Digital Connectors program was created with the goal of helping entire communities by  making it possible for hundreds of young adults to develop their skills in using computers, applications and the Internet, and then sharing their new-found knowledge in the communities where they live and go to school,” said Steve Kipp, Comcast Washington’s vice president of communications.

“It’s a lot of their time, and it’s a big commitment, but it really does pay off — all of that hard work,” said Kate Farmer, the center manager at the Rainier Vista Neighborhood House. Primarily low-income students were recruited by the program. In addition to valuable experience for their resumes, students also received a Cisco networking certification, a digital camera and a Netbook after they completed the program. The last class graduated in late May 2013, and the next class will begin around October.

“It’s such an accomplishment,” Farmer said, adding that the students were especially pleased about the experience for their resumes.

“For some of them, it’s really their first job,” she said. The program brings in guest speakers from companies such as Microsoft or Comcast to show potential careers in technology to the students. Helping the youth find employment is part of the overall goal of Neighborhood House.

Founded more than a century ago, Neighborhood House is one of the oldest nonprofits in Seattle. The goal of the organization is to provide services and resources to underserved communities. Its services include helping finding employment, teaching English as a second language and offering citizenship classes for immigrants.

The organization serves all ages and offers “things to make sure that the entire family is supported so they can move towards self-sufficiency and have the best, happiest life possible,” said Kathryn McGhee, former Digital Connectors instructor.
Benjamin Guth, a 19-year-old recent graduate of Roosevelt High School, completed the program in May.

“[Digital Connectors is] important. It helps a lot of people,” he said.

Guth joined the program because he is interested in technology. He feels that he has definitely gained value from the experience and would recommend Digital Connectors to others.

McGhee has taught Comcast’s Digital Connector’s program for the last three years. For her, teaching media literacy is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
“I think it’s had a really strong effect on their critical thinking skills,” she said. She described how many students had never fully examined the media they consume. Now, the students are more aware of the deeper messages they are exposed to.
Connecting with the community was one of the original goals of the Digital Connectors program. Like the other students, Guth completed 56 hours of community service. He helped local residents connect to the Internet at home, or program cell phones for people who did not know how to do it themselves.
“The kids are basically taking what they’ve learned and giving it back to the community,” Farmer said.

In addition to the tech support training, the Connectors also benefited from the relationships fostered through the program. Youth from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds spent time together and learned about one others’ experiences and perspectives.

“We would have students that had never met each other before become friends through the program,” McGhee said. “We would have conversations about stereotypes, about discrimination, and the conversations youth would have with themselves was always really, really interesting.”

Students would talk about how they are portrayed by society at large, and how those images are often not accurate, she said.

“Having the youth talk to each other about … how it made them feel, and how they can get through that as a community … I think is always really exciting,” said McGhee.

Learn more about Comcast’s Digital Connectors program at Neighborhood House’s Rainer Vista location by visiting www.wacomcast.com.

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