Nov. 20, 2019 11:23 am

During Tech in Action Day, all the participants teach and learn

Comcast NBCUniversal, in partnership with Comcast LIFT Labs and Generocity, sent nearly 50 volunteer technologists out to help nine local nonprofits serving youth, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Erin Palmer, director of endpoint security for Comcast, mentors clients at SPIN, Inc. about internet safety during Tech in Action Friday, Nov. 8.

(Photo by Jason E. Miczek/AP Images for Comcast)

Aren’t there days you wish you had your own technologist on hand — to troubleshoot, to tell you what you could do better (and how), to make the time you spend on a computer safer, more efficient, and more creative? 

For nine nonprofits, that day was November 8, when Comcast, LIFT Labs and Generocity sent 46 technologists out to volunteer their time, expertise, and service at sites across Philadelphia to help close the digital and opportunity divide.

For example, at New Foundations Charter School (NFCS) — which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade — eight technologists made a tremendous impact, according to Jessica Thomas, the school’s computer science educator and technology integration specialist.

Obi Asinugo, a software engineer with Comcast, mentors students at New Foundations Charter School about coding animation during Tech in Action. (Photo by Jason E. Miczek/AP Images for Comcast)

“The Tech in Action Day was a transformative experience for many of my students,” Thomas told Generocity. “It gave fuel to their curiosity, unearthed new talents in them, and provided them with additional exposure to the computer science field and its many possibilities. The volunteers were patient, knowledgeable, and passionate about their current roles, which intrigued the students to ask questions and explore beyond the activities we did that day.”

Turns out the inspiration was reciprocal.

“New Foundations Charter was very organized, pretty diverse, and well-funded,” said Jenny Fung, who wanted to volunteer so she could share her skills in a meaningful way. “Ms. Thomas is a force! She is awesome!” Fung works for Azavea — a certified B Corporation that builds advanced geospatial applications for civic and social impact — and along with another volunteer from the company, Peter Caisse, she led the students through a series of web-based coding activities.

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Another event was held at Big Picture Alliance, a digital media organization focused on web and social media strategy for youth. Joe Kozeniewski, a demand generation strategist at eMoney Advisor said, “I think I learned as much from the students at BPA as they did from us! They are a very talented and enthusiastic group of young adults with sharp mentors running the program. It was fascinating to learn how natural video and content production was to them.”

As with volunteers at the other sites, Kozeniewski had something special to offer to the young students he worked with for the day. “We helped them organize their social media efforts to promote BPA and the students had great questions and insights,” he said. “I commended them on the work and networking they’re doing outside of school. I encouraged them to emphasize their video production experience when they enter the workforce, and that I’d be happy (along with the rest of the volunteers) to serve as a resource.”

This inaugural Tech in Action Day was timed to coincide with National STEM/STEAM Day, and to fulfill several missions: to make technology more accessible to those most impacted by the digital divide — youth, seniors, people of color, veterans, and people with disabilities — and to foster volunteerism as a way to give back to communities across the city.

“Tech in Action Day stemmed from a discussion with our LIFT Labs and Community Impact teams,” said Danielle Cohn, VP of entrepreneurial engagement at Comcast NBCUniversal and head of LIFT Labs. “The goal was to create another meaningful touch point in the year for connecting the talented technologists from Comcast and area startups with our nonprofit partners to lend their expertise on National STEM Day.”

One of those Comcast technologists was Nancy McGuire, whose volunteer work took place at Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN). The greatest takeaway from the event, she said, was “being able to share and provide tips for things I take for granted.”

“It made a big impact to those I worked with,” McGuire said. “This was a great inaugural event.”

Luke Butler, left, senior director, Comcast LIFT Labs, mentors a Nationalities Service Center client searching for employment during Tech in Action. (Photo by Jason E. Miczek/AP Images for Comcast)

For Luke Butler, a Comcast volunteer who worked with folks at the Nationalities Service Center, the impact was palpable.

“I spent the afternoon at the Nationalities Service Center, which provides a range of services to refugees and asylum seekers in Philadelphia,” he said. “I conducted a mock interview with a gentleman from Cuba who had a job interview coming up in the next few days. He wrote to me after the interview to tell me it went really well and that the time we spent together was very helpful (and that I now have a friend for life!). I spent time with other clients to review their resumes and help them look for jobs online. It was so rewarding to have such a direct and positive impact on people trying to build new lives for themselves here.”

Justin LaRose (second from right), senior software engineer for Comcast, mentors JEVS TechServ Scholars during a workforce development event as part of Tech in Action. (Photo by Jason E. Miczek/AP Images for Comcast)

In addition to the nonprofits already mentioned, volunteers worked with Coded by Kids, Special People in Northeast Inc., JEVS Human Services, Hopeworks Camden, and Lutheran Settlement House. They tackled a diverse range of topics including: cyber security, digital literacy, data analysis, and visualization.

“Events like this help reinforce the instruction I provide in the classroom,” Thomas said. “[It] helps students see the impact the field of computer science is having not just in the programming world, but in their everyday lives, and for that I am grateful.”


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