Computer Mentors: Youth Helping Youth Bridge Digital Divide

Computer Mentors is increasing the skills of Tampa’s workforce while making an impact on local youth.  

The mission of the nonprofit, grassroots organization is to put technology in the hands of underprivileged youth while encouraging them to consider information technology as a career path.  

The group's main program, the STEM Corps High School Program, is a service learning model. After earning a certification, teens perform technology projects for other nonprofit organizations. Past projects include a website for Green ARTery, a neighborhood-based initiative to connect walkways and other green space in Hillsborough County, and a video for Positive Spin, which provides family support systems.

According to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, home computer and Internet use are strongly associated with household income. Almost half of households in the lowest income category did not have a computer, compared to 4 percent of those in the highest income category.

"There really still is a digital divide," says Ralph Smith, founder and executive director for Computer Mentors. "It hurts the country and hurts our area. Internet and computer power are very important to help kids have access to education."

Computer Mentors’ civic justice corps (CJC) program helps former juvenile offenders complete their GED and enter into a computer technology field. Participants recently worked with Community Stepping Stones, an afterschool learning center for at-risk teens based in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa, to refurbish computers donated by the Patel Foundation. They also installed software and provided basic computer training.

"Tampa is becoming a well-known technology hub," says Smith. "Computer Mentors is trying to enlarge the talent pool for our companies to be able to grow here in our area."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ralph Smith, Computer Mentors

Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

Megan Hendricks is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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