Emerging Leader Working to Close the Digital Divide in His Community

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced digital devices to play crucial roles in the way people live, work, learn, and even worship. The recent rapid pivot to remote work and online learning has also illuminated the problem of unequal access to computers and the internet.

“The pandemic exposed how the lack of access widens the digital divide and threatens to leave many students and their families in underserved communities behind. One computer is not enough when you have kids and parents trying to work and learn from home,” said Aaron Barron, a 2021 We Raise Emerging Leader Grant recipient.

Generous financial support from We Raise donors is enabling community leaders, like Barron, to bridge the gap by helping residents of East Palo Alto, Calif., and the surrounding area gain access to technology to build their computer proficiency and elevate their marketability.

Barron became keenly aware of the digital divide when he was a student at Stanford University. When not doing schoolwork, he volunteered as a computer coding mentor in East Palo Alto. The city is near Silicon Valley and the corporate headquarters of several technological companies and research facilities. Yet, there are communities in the shadows of these technological giants where families lack access to internet-enabled devices.

After graduating in 2018 with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering, Barron contemplated working in the medical field or launching his own design consultant firm. But the Georgia native decided to return home and seized an opportunity to teach physics and calculus part time at an Atlanta school.

“That’s when I rediscovered my passion for educating. I spent most of my free time in college mentoring and teaching. I began to realize it wasn’t just a hobby. I could turn this into a career,” Barron said. “My mission is to use my abilities to serve where God places me. Helping others is the ultimate act of humanity.”

With clarity about his future, Barron applied for a teaching internship in 2019, which led to a full-time position as partnership director at StreetCode Academy, a tech education nonprofit in East Palo Alto. At the onset of the pandemic, Barron and the team at StreetCode shifted their focus to the urgent need for access to technology and launched a distribution initiative, Level Up.

In addition to leadership development, a portion of the Emerging Leader grant will be used to sustain a part-time employee who will pick up and refurbish computers, install apps, and organize the checkout process. So far 2,000 computers have been distributed through the Level Up program. The goal for 2022 is to provide 1,000 computers, hot spots, and accessories to qualified families free of charge for one year. Along with equipment distribution, StreetCode is offering free on-demand educational resources to guide participants and families on how to use and leverage their tech tools.

“Partnering with We Raise for this initiative has empowered us to close the digital gap in our community,” said Barron. “I feel We Raise not only understands our mission, but is a strong champion of growing leaders by developing relationships through conferences and coaching.”

Your generous financial support is making a tangible difference and investing in people’s future—like those in the East Palo Alto community—by helping them gain access to technology to build their computer proficiency and elevate their marketability. Thank you!

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