America Strong: Immigrant-founded nonprofit provides laptops, tech to students in need

Stanford students launch nonprofit that donates computers to underserved students

Seniors Isabel Wang and Margot Bellon are the founders of Bridging Tech, a charitable organization that provides refurbished computers to students affected by homelessness.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced education to motion online, many students affected by homelessness have struggled to go along up academically with their peers due to limited or no admission to computers. Now, two Stanford students are working hard to help close this technology gap – known equally the digital divide – with their nonprofit organization Bridging Tech.

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“In response to COVID-nineteen, nosotros created Bridging Tech so that children affected by homelessness can have the same opportunities to learn,” said Isabel Wang.

Since Apr, Wang and fellow Stanford senior Margot Bellon have been decorated bringing their charity to scale. They take assembled a large network of volunteers, partnered with other organizations and donated hundreds of computers to students in shelters. In only a few months, Bridging Tech has expanded its services beyond the Bay Area and is now operating in numerous states.

With the inflow of the holiday season, Bellon and Wang expect to almost double their donations earlier the end of the year. And with connected support from donors, partners and volunteers, they hope to one mean solar day have their services internationally.

“Our ultimate goal is to help bridge educational inequity and ensure that all of these students have an equal opportunity of going to school, being successful and obtaining jobs,” said Bellon.

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Bridging the digital divide

Shortly after schools in the Us moved instruction online, Bellon and Wang became frustrated by how the change was affecting students who lacked access to computers outside of their schools.

Stanford seniors Margot Bellon, left, and Isabel Wang are the founders of Bridging Tech.
(Image credit: Courtesy Margot Bellon)

“What nosotros learned when we were creating Bridging Tech is that there are eleven 1000000 children in the U.S. alone who practice not have their own laptop or estimator, or a suitable device for learning at home,” said Wang.

Bellon said that this digital divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic and could have long-term adverse effects for those students.

“The students that didn’t have a device before [the pandemic], [at present] can’t go to school at all, which is almost a guarantee for them to be held back a class,” she said.

Bellon and Wang focused their services on G–12 students, who are typically the most disadvantaged and most likely to be without a computer. Then they devised a process for acquiring laptops and delivering them.

After identifying donors willing to hand over their quondam computers, Bridging Tech volunteers retrieve the devices and then either deliver them to refurbishers or wipe and personally refurbish the devices themselves. Once the devices are restored, volunteers deliver them to students at a local shelter. Once the devices are in their hands, the students get to continue them permanently.

Wang and Bellon oversee every attribute of Bridging Tech’s growing operation. They currently manage viii teams tackling everything from marketing to technology, as well as a core team of near 30 volunteers, including many Stanford students. They’ve partnered with numerous organizations, such as professional refurbishers and charities that provide Wi-Fi connectivity in shelters. They also provide tutoring services and take launched a mentorship programme that connects students affected by homelessness with someone who tin answer questions nigh schools and careers.

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To date, Bridging Tech has donated 437 computers to students in numerous cities beyond the Us, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York. The organization is expected to requite away another 400 laptops by the stop of 2020. Bellon said that in the coming months they also promise to expand the system beyond large urban centers.

“Students in cities tend to have more admission to Wi-Fi and public libraries with computers in general, and then we desire to bridge this gap for students in more remote areas,” she said.

Addressing social inequities

Bridging Tech is a deeply personal project for both Bellon and Wang, who have been involved with social justice issues for many years. Bellon, a biology major from San Mateo, has volunteered in Bay Area homeless shelters, where she’s become acutely aware of the social inequities inside Silicon Valley. And Wang, a symbolic systems major who is currently on a go out of absence from Stanford, grew up spearheading public health and race relations initiatives focused on educational equity in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a community known for addressing racial disparities. They said that when it comes to education, the current public health crisis is simply making social inequities worse because many students lack admission to modern learning technologies.

“You have to accept a laptop to learn, especially in this moment in particular considering of the pandemic,” Wang said. “If you don’t access technology early, you’re non going to be able to catch upwardly, and so that’south why it’s so of import that nosotros provide these tools.”

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Wang and Bellon said building Bridging Tech has been an incredibly collaborative effort. They are grateful for the support of their many volunteers, donors and partners, as well as the Stanford community.

“Our Stanford connections have made an enormous bear upon,” said Bellon. “One of the outset things nosotros did when founding this was reach out to alumni through the Stanford Alumni Mentoring Network. These alumni were some of our starting time supporters and mentors, and account for a large per centum of Bridging Tech’s donations.”

Bellon and Wang hope to keep establishing new partnerships. Anyone interested in donating a laptop, partnering with or serving as a volunteer for Bridging Tech is encouraged to visit the organization’s website.

America Strong: Immigrant-founded nonprofit provides laptops, tech to students in need