This piece is by Laura Parewski, the AmeriCorps*VISTA Volunteer coordinating the Digital Connectors program out of Duke’s Office of Community Affairs. Financial support has come from Cisco Systems, Verizon Foundation and Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs.
Early last month, as kids returned to school across Durham, the Digital Connectors program started up in Walltown, giving neighborhood youth something special to return to. The afterschool program engages youth ages 14 to 21 in leadership development, digital education, life skills management and community service.
Twice a week, about 10 Walltown youth meet with Shakara Hayes and Vicki McLean, the instructor and assistant, to go through a lesson from the One Economy curriculum. So far they have formed classroom rules together, talked about stereotypes and community service, and learned about computers from the inside out. United Way of the Greater Triangle generously donated an old computer for the Digital Connectors to take apart and explore.
In addition to helping the youth improve their technology skills, the program is helping them boost their self-confidence and self-respect, and set goals for the future. During one of the first sessions, the youth wrote about their expectations for the program, the instructor, their fellow Digital Connectors and themselves. Again and again answers about respect and giving 100 percent came up as Shakara read the anonymous responses to the group. It was truly inspiring to see this young group of leaders quickly and clearly define the basic goals they wanted to reach through the Digital Connectors program.
In the next few months, the Digital Connectors will begin performing community service, becoming technology leaders in Walltown and sharing their new skills with their neighbors and community. Everyone involved with the Digital Connectors program is very excited about the progress that has been made and the program’s bright future.