March Spotlight: Tech Goes Home with Q.J. Shi & Dan Noyes

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Odds are, if  you are reading this, you might take a lot for granted. Take a moment to acknowledge some of those privileges you may overlook, it is likely that you’d think of things like a safe home, access to food, and a comfortable living situation. But there’s something else that has become so ingrained in many of our lives that it is hardly ever noticed, unless we found ourselves without access to it: technology.

How often do you use technology? Not for memes or for scrolling through Twitter, but as a tool? Do you use technology for directions, to find the best taco place in town, to look up a new word you’ve stumbled upon in a book, or to look for a new job? Technology is a gateway to an infinite world of information and resources and, if you have access to it, you might forget what the world looks like for those who don’t. All the little parts of your life that are simplified through technology may go unnoticed by you, but many others don’t have that luxury. One of of every five kids in Boston don’t have access to internet at home, and that lack of access puts certain students behind in comparison to their peers. The fact is, technology opens up a world of knowledge to all that have access to it, leaving those without those resources trailing behind. Fortunately, despite how daunting the vast digital divide in our modern society may seem, there are incredible organizations and passionate people working to combat it. One of those organizations is Tech Goes Home.

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This March we interviewed Q.J. Shi and Dan Noyes from Tech Goes Home (TGH) to learn more about their roles at TGH, their organizational mission and how volunteers make their work possible.

As Program Director, Q.J. oversees partner organization relationships by providing support, training, and professional development to partner sites and their staff so they can run TGH successfully with their participants.  In October of 2016,  Q.J. left an executive director position at another organization to join TGH and do work that brought her closer to the day-to-day impact of community development.

After a career in Boston schools for ten years, Dan joined Tech Goes Home in 2010 and acts as Co-Executive Director along with Theo Higginson Hanna. Together they handle all of the development, fundraising and corporate matchmaking of the organization, which Dan describes as: “…the fun stuff which funds all the hard work that Q.J. does to ensure the programs run and that participants get the resources they need.”

Both Q.J. and Dan spoke very candidly about the realities of the technology gap today. Since 2000, Tech Goes Home has began to close that gap through an easily-implemented curriculum for their organizational partners and by providing affordable technology to their participants.  Approximately 75% of Tech Goes Home participants have a household income under $25,000.  About 36% of participants are unemployed, and 45% of participants first language is not English. Q.J. illustrates how these realities shape people’s relationship with technology:

“If you think how much it costs to actually go out and purchase a computer, you’ll realize most of the people we serve are not able to do that. So what we do through Tech Goes Home is not only give people the skills to be able to use the computer, but we give them the option to purchase a laptop or tablet brand new for $50 as well. We also provide education about affordable internet access. The biggest factors of bridging the digital divide are providing these three things: the skills, the hardware, and the internet access. So that people can get online, they can Google anything, they can apply for a job, where they otherwise would have to go to a library. I think we’re opening up a new world, the ability to access the world wide web.”

Tech Goes Home has four different programs: their Community program, Early Childhood & School programs, and the Small business program. The Community Program serves an adult population, and equips local community staff to teach the digital skills necessary for adults to partake in everyday technology. Often the partners that utilize the Community Program model are serving an elderly population. When speaking of this population, Q.J. explains: “That’s a group with very specialized needs. Some of them are maybe intimidated by technology, and their family members are all on Facebook or on email. They might have a hard time getting connected. Part of our goal is going in and making sure that they feel connected and in turn are not as isolated.” – Q.J.

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Tech Goes Home also has two youth programs. One of them is the Early Childhood Program, in which the participants are adults/caregivers and their children, ages 3-6. They are provided with an iPad that has been preloaded with apps that  focuses on activities that range from  practicing meditation to learning social skills. The youth  might be with their grandparents or parents, exploring technology together while practicing early learning strategies. The other youth program is the School Program, which engages school-aged youth along with their parents/caregivers. This program allows for both students and their guardians to be more involved with their education process. The classes, which are taught by the teachers from the school, cover everything from tracking grades to increasing parent-school engagement to finding web-based family resources. The last program is the Small Business Program. TGH works with micro-entrepreneurs to provide skills in building their business using technology. “A lot of times folks that are just starting don’t have the resources to get online, or don’t know how to market themselves competitively.” -Q.J. stated This program enables entrepreneurs with the digital tools necessary to strengthen their businesses and, in turn, the local economy.

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Both Dan and Q.J. spoke passionately about the importance of volunteers in their classes. In any given Tech Goes Home class, an instructor could be leading up to twenty individuals in a lesson.. Ideally, having a student-to-teacher ratio that allows for one-on-one attention would be most productive but, unfortunately, many community partners and non-profit organization do not have the capacity to staff multiple instructors. This is where Boston Cares volunteers come in. The volunteer’s role, in this instance, is to provide support to teachers and help guide the participants through the lesson.It is very important to note that Tech Goes Home courses focus on teaching Basic Technology skills. Volunteers need not be experts in coding or web-design to help in classes, basic technology supports participants in everyday technology like setting up an email or finding a location on Google maps.

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“Volunteers are so important in all of our courses. Trainers can sometimes get overwhelmed because they have people with different skill levels. Everyone needs specific attention and support, and sometimes they may feel vulnerable or even embarrassed. The volunteers create a trusting relationship, they are always patient and kind while helping people navigate a very foreign thing, and while they are learning a new set of skills they may have no exposure to. Also, the more people we have in the room as support systems, the bigger the knowledge base is. Sometimes the trainer might have a specific knowledge base, but if you have a volunteer who is super tech-savvy they might expose the participants to something the trainer might now even know.” – Q.J

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Annually, TGH engages more than 200 volunteers at their various partner organizations. When asked about the partnership with Boston Cares, Dan said: “Our relationship with Boston Cares has been wonderful, I can’t emphasize how important it is that we have volunteers in our courses, whether it be for tech assistance, or language assistance, or even if it’s just holding someone’s hand.”

Q.J. is confident about the effectiveness of Tech Goes Home programs: “I think we have a really positive impact with the folks that we serve, 98% of participants and 100% of our trainers say that they would recommend Tech Goes Home to someone else. We do find that people are using these skills in their daily lives – whether that be for those folks who need a computer to find a job, to do homework, or simply to connect with others.”

Sign-up today to volunteer with Tech Goes Home through the Boston Cares calendar 

Join us on March 28th to learn about Boston Cares’ commitment based Corps program and how you can help communities in need gain valuable skills through our Basic Technology Corps.

Another incredible factor that comes out of the programs run by Tech Goes Home is the sense of community. Each of these programs pull in staff to lead the classes, the participants and their families, and the volunteers who assist in the classes. The courses bring people who may have not normally crossed paths together. Dan Noyes had a few words to sum Tech Goes Home in a nutshell: “You give someone the skills, but you also build community, and have the opportunity share stories”

The community-building aspect is crucial to Tech Goes Home accomplishing its mission.

“Now a days, we see so many walls being built up in between people, whether real or not, it’s impacting how we live, who we associate with, who we talk with, and who we love. The more that we can take down those walls and connect people, and show that we all love our children, we all love where we live, we all love each other. The more we can do that and connect people together the better off we are. I think we see that, once we open doors to community resources for our participants, they want to go back, they want to learn more and meet more people. I think that’s one of the best things we do.”

For ways to volunteer with Tech Goes Home visit our website here

For more information about Tech Goes Home, visit their website here