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Member Spotlight: Comp-U-Dopt Chicago

Network Connections Influence Digital Equity in Chicago Communities

The Chicago Learning Exchange facilitates the sharing of information between organizations and individuals, encouraging collaboration between them through our community network. Recently, Comp-U-Dopt , a nonprofit organization focused on providing technology access and education to underserved youth; and Family Matters, an afterschool program that curates safe spaces, provides educational support, and leadership skill-building for children, joined forces in a computer distribution drive.

Kaia Dutler (KD), Executive Director of Comp-U-Dopt Chicago & Northern Illinois, graciously took some time to meet with CLX’s Kiara Hardin (KH) and share more on how she looks forward to further communication with other CLX partner organizations through Remake Learning Days. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

KH: Please provide a brief summary of Comp-U-Dopt

KD: Comp-U-Dopt is a 501(c)(3) organization with the mission to provide technology access and education to underserved youth. We have been engaged in this work since 2007 and expanded our efforts to the Chicago/Great Lakes region last year. Since April of 2020, we have delivered over 6,500 reconditioned computers to Chicago area families who did not previously own one in their home. We have now launched our education programs which are designed to help ensure the digital divide continues to close for our youth. We provide three afterschool enrichment programs and one workforce development program focused to give school age youth and opportunity youth (ages 16-24) engaging, hands-on learning opportunities using technology vital to developing skills for the 21st century workforce.

KH: Describe the Family Matters Computer Distribution Drive. How did the partnership happen?

KD: Kiara and Sana from CLX are wonderful community advocates and connected us to Ashaki from Family Matters. We were so excited for an opportunity to partner with an organization in the Rogers Park area. We know there is a great deal of need in the community and it is critical for Comp-U-Dopt to have a trusted partner in the community that can help us spread the word about our organization. Understandably, families are often leery that there are no "strings attached" to receiving a computer from our organization or that the programming we provide in schools or through community partners are offered to youth at no cost. Ashaki did an amazing job working with us to get families registered for the Rogers Park distribution. When we first spoke, we had around 10-15 families in the community registered. By the time we pulled the random lottery, we had over 180 families registered from the Rogers Park community. We are so thankful to CLX for the introduction! I am so appreciative of the CLX community and believe that it has contributed a great deal to our early success in this space.

KH: What are some tangible outcomes of the distribution?

KD: We sent text messages to 187 families who registered for the distribution. From that pool, 85 families registered for the pick-up day, and 72 families received a computer. This is a very successful first distribution in a new community. We expect that more families will continue to register for our lottery in Rogers Park as those 72 families spread the word about the support they received through the efforts of Family Matters and Comp-U-Dopt.

KH: How will Comp-U-Dopt be participating in Remake Learning Days?

KD: Comp-U-Dopt will be participating in Remake Learning Days in two ways. We will be holding four computer distributions in which we aim to provide 200 families with reconditioned computers. These distributions will be held in the Back of the Yards, Austin, Garfield Park, and Roseland communities. Fifty families from each of these communities who participate in a RLD event will have the opportunity to register for the computer lottery. The only qualifier to entering the computer lottery is that the family does not currently own a computer in their home. We know that due to the pandemic there are many computers in homes that are on loan from school or work. These computers will eventually go back once the pandemic ends. We want to ensure families will still have technology access when those devices have to be returned, especially to enable lifelong learning in out-of-school time (OST) spaces.

Comp-U-Dopt will also be holding a 2-hour workshop for teens aged 14-18 on May 13th from 10am-12pm CST. Our workshop will center on the free, open-source software Blender, which allows students to create 3D animations and has been used in blockbuster movies such as Wonder Woman. In addition to teaching the participants the basics of Blender, we will take them through a job search activity where they can explore different careers that use Blender and similar software, the average pay, and the typical requirements of jobs in this field.

KH: Why do you think Remake Learning Days is important?

KD: We need to continue to educate people on the digital divide. It is a real problem that has not been solved despite being laid bare by the pandemic. It is important to us that more families register for our computer adoption lottery. The more families that register, the more the story rings true for potential funders. We estimate that approximately 100,000 families do not own a computer in their home. The more families we have registered, the more our funders realize the importance of their continued support to close the digital divide through equitable access and education for youth in underserved communities. The digital pandemic will continue for families and will be even more difficult -when loaned devices go back to school or work when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

From an educational perspective, RLD is important because it allows students to explore STEM subjects in an inclusive and engaging way. Technology can often seem frightening and therefore unattainable to students. Technology and STEM are no longer a choice for students; to participate in today and tomorrow’s world it is vital students see tech careers as obtainable and feel comfortable engaging with the STEM disciplines. Remake Learning Days encourages students of all ages and backgrounds to see a place for themselves in the STEM disciplines and encourages them to explore how technology will be a part of their lives both currently and in the future.

KH: What are your final thoughts?

KD: We are so thankful for the relationships we have been able to foster through CLX and the opportunity to participate in Remake Learning Days in such an impactful way. Thank you to CLX leadership and the community for being such a force to help build a more equitable city for youth and their families. We are honored to work alongside so many community driven colleagues.