Kramden Partners with the Marcus Harris Foundation

Marcus Harris first learned about Kramden a few years ago after seeing a local newscast highlighting a donation of more than 40 computers the organization made to an area elementary school. “I was incredibly impressed by that,” he shared, “and I began researching the company more and learned just how committed it is to helping bridge the digital divide.”

Ever since, Marcus has been a huge advocate for Kramden’s mission, supporting our ongoing efforts to provide free desktops and laptops to kids who lack them at home.

Recently, Marcus updated us on DaQuanta, a mother of one of the families served through Neighborfood Express, a program that provides free groceries and essential supplies to families living in food-insecure Southeast Raleigh neighborhoods. During virtual learning this past year, Daquanta supervised 16 kids in her apartment complex daily. Unfortunately, the Chromebooks the kids were issued by the school system had been malfunctioning regularly, causing them to fall behind in their academic efforts. After receiving desktop computers from Kramden, Marcus proudly reported that not only have their grades improved, many of them have made the Honor Roll for the first time ever!

Marcus delivers 16 computers to Daquanta’s home

The Marcus Harris Foundation was launched in 2018. The foundation works to uplift kids and families from underserved backgrounds, focusing on areas such as education, food insecurity, advocacy for survivors of domestic violence, and, most recently, affordable housing. “Our primary motivation has always been finding innovative ways to provide impactful assistance for those who need it most,” explained Marcus.

“We owe it all to Kramden for making it possible for us to help these kids and families like we have.” – Marcus Harris, The Marcus Harris Foundation

Kramden first partnered with the Marcus Harris Foundation in 2019, awarding devices for children receiving free haircuts through their Kutz for Kids program. Earlier this year, the collaboration expanded when Marcus launched Neighborfood Express.  So far, in just a few months, Marcus and his team have helped distribute over 30 computers along with countless supplies to families in need. Thank you, Marcus, and your dedicated team at the MHF for this great partnership!

Supporter Spotlight: Michael Chen

 

From his first tour of Kramden’s warehouse, Michael Chen knew he wanted to one day help out. “I was always interested in figuring out how things worked and what the insides of different (broken) electronics looked like,” he explained, “but I liked the idea of learning how to fix a computer so that others can have one for school or work.” While he was too young to start volunteering at the time, Michael continued to stay involved by participating in a number of Kramden’s technology classes.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Michael decided to give back to the community by creating over 500 3D printed mask buckles. Earlier this year, Michael was recognized for his hard work with the National Honoree 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Award.  Each recipient was able to choose a non-profit to receive a $5,000 grant as part of the award and Michael selected Kramden Institute.  We checked in with Michael to learn more!

Michael carefully removes his 3D printed mask buckles.

How did you first become involved with Kramden?

I was very interested in electronics but was having a difficult time finding a place where I would be allowed to take more advanced classes because of my age. When my mother called Marshall at Kramden and explained our situation, he allowed me to try an Arduino class on the condition that my mother registered to take it with me because of the partner work involved. The instructor was a retired professor (Geek of the Year Lou Voerman!), and he taught the class in a very clear and engaging way. There was a lecture part where we could take notes, a diagram to be completed that explained the electronic components, and then we got hand’s-on time with Arduino. The professor also brought the HAMM radio he built for us to see! I loved the class! My mother enjoyed the class too but was relieved when Marshall told her I did so well I could attend subsequent classes without her. Delighted with this, my mother invited Kramden Institute to offer classes to other students like me through PAGE of Wake County. I have since attended every class that Kramden has offered there, including some at the Kramden campus too.

Is there something about Kramden’s work/mission in particular that you connect with? (e.g. computers for kids, recycling old computers, etc.) 

Because our family had access to technology, my siblings and I were able to attend school remotely during the “pandemic school year” (2020-2021). At home, we have had discussions about inequalities in the US and how lucky we are to have the resources we needed to succeed. It makes me sad to hear that other children my age might not have access to technology at home, or even that some schools might not even have the financial resources to purchase computers for their classrooms. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closings have made it even more clear to me that we need to help bridge that gap. I like that Kramden is doing that and that maybe I can help too.

Tell us more about the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and your project!

I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet! It was such an honor to be recognized as a State Honoree for North Carolina, that I couldn’t quite believe it when they announced my name as one of the ten National Honorees to be recognized for the 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Award! I am honored that the organization thought my project deserving of this recognition.

Early on in the pandemic, before the shutdowns in the US, we discussed what was going on in China (we have friends and family in East Asia) – how it has impacted their community and how it may soon affect us, given how we are all connected globally. During those conversations, one question my parents kept returning to was “how we could be part of the solution to this problem?” Of all the images coming out in the news that we were allowed to see, the ones that impacted us the most were photos of healthcare workers with sores on their faces from long-term mask-wearing. I had just used my “life-savings” to buy a 3D printer six months before, and so I tried printing a facemask that I had hoped could be reused, but that ended up not being practical or guaranteed to be safe. After some more research, I learned that long-term mask-wearing also resulted in sores behind the ears and that those could be very painful. So, I decided that I would print “mask buckles” that would keep the mask loops away from the ears and yet still keep the mask tight enough to ensure the safety of the wearer. All in all, I’ve printed – with the help from a neighbor’s colleagues, when my printer broke down – a total of 580 mask buckles. They went to Healthcare workers, our school staff, Essential workers, and the Navajo Nation.

Any fun / geeky facts about yourself you would like to share?  

I love the challenge of solving puzzles and have a Rubik’s cube collection.  I also love to play with magnets and seeing how weight is distributed through the designs I come up with.  My favorite hobby, however, is origami.  More specifically, modular origami, where I take pieces of paper and fold them into shapes that fit into each other to form a larger shape.  I have a Menger sponge that I’ve been working on during my free time.

 

Thank you, Michael, for supporting Kramden’s mission!

 

Central Carolina Student Benefits from Kramden Laptop

Like so many families across the country, Central Carolina Community College student Nathalia and her husband found themselves scrambling for a computer in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic caught us off guard,” she explained. “We did not expect to be all taking online classes and in need of a computer at the same time.”

Before receiving a computer from Kramden, Nathalia had to share the only laptop she had at home with her husband and two kids.

Nathalia, CCCC Student and Kramden Computer Recipient

“Before, I had to prioritize the kids and their classes. I had to watch recorded classes, but it is not the same thing because you cannot ask questions and interact with your professor and students. I had to stay up very late to use the computer while everyone else was sleeping.”

Last year, thanks to funding from Coastal Credit Union Foundation, Kramden refurbished and distributed 50 laptops to Central Carolina Community College students like Nathalia. This was part of a larger grant that provided funding for 500 devices for area families in 2020.

“After I had my new computer, I could get on track again and participate in live classes. My kids had a computer for them; my husband only used the computer after work, so he could use the kids’ computer, and I still had mine just for me.” Nathalia didn’t just get on track with her new computer. She used it to finish her Associate Degree with a G.P.A. of 4.0!

“I know you all aim to help and do good for us, students in need, but the reality is that what you do is so much more than can be truly measured. Some good acts have a ripple effect, and they echo in eternity” said Nathalia.

Thank you to Coastal Credit Union Foundation for your ongoing support and commitment to Kramden’s mission!

Geek of the Year – Rick Burts

Rick Burts is Geek of the Year! Rick has volunteered over 500 hours since first joining Kramden in 2018. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns, along with helping in the warehouse, Rick served as a regular assistant for Kramden’s in-person digital literacy classes.  Throughout 2020 Rick showed up week after week (with his mask on!) logging over 250 hours and playing a huge role in helping Kramden get computers out the door during the pandemic. Thank you, Rick, for your continued support and dedication to Kramden’s mission!

Favorite Geek Books: Interconnections Bridges and Routers by Radia Perlman which is a wonderful description of the basics of networking computers and started me down the path of working with networks

Favorite TV Show: NCIS

Favorite Geek Movie: Star Wars series

Favorite Geek Website: Kramden.org

What is the geekiest thing about you? I really like to figure out how things work. And I really like to solve puzzles. And those things combine when I am working on triage and/or final test for our computers.

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden?  Earlier in my career, I was a teacher, and (when we were able to offer in-person classes) I really was gratified to be able to assist with our classes. I continue to feel proud of what we do in the warehouse to provide computers to those who otherwise would not have access to a computer.

Best Kramden Moment?  I was at the opticians being fitted for a new pair of glasses. I mentioned that after the fitting I would be going out to Kramden to volunteer. The young lady who was doing the fitting responded “OH Kramden!! When I was in school they gave me a computer. It made such a difference for me”. Encountering someone to whom we made such a difference was inspiring.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do?  I work on various projects around the house and the yard. I like to cook and am proud of the sourdough starter which I have maintained for about 20 years. There is an online forum for people who use Cisco networking equipment and I am an active participant in this community.

 

Geek of the Week – Meagen Voss

Meagen Voss is Geek of the Week! Meagen has spent the past three years offering up her talents in both Kramden’s refurbishing warehouse and classroom. Thank you, Meagen, for your support and dedication to Kramden’s mission!

Favorite Geek Books: There are too many for me to list. So I’ll just note that the most recent nerdy adventure I enjoyed was The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal. It has everything: space, intrigue and heroic engineers!

Favorite Geek TV Show: The show that I rewatch over and over again is Avatar: The Last Airbender. Technology is very rudimentary in the Avatar world but the characters were still huge geeks because of how willing they were to improvise, experiment, and invent new things.

Favorite Geek Movie: Captain Marvel is my new favorite. Not only does it include space elements but it has so much 90s nostalgia, I had to haul out my pogs collection after watching it.

Favorite Website: To be honest, it’s Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning). Every time I need to learn a new skill or coding language, I usually start there.

What is the geekiest thing about you? I write my own fiction adventures and insert easter eggs for readers to find as they read to encourage them to hack the code. I’m planning to launch a self-published project some time next year.

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden?  Knowing that the work I’m doing will help give kids a shot at understanding technology even more deeply than I did at their age. I didn’t learn to code until I was in my 30s. I strongly believe that’s a skill kids should be learning in elementary school.

Best Kramden Moment?  Showing a student how to use the terminal in Endless and watching her squeal with delight. I think a new developer (or hacker???) was born that day.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do?  For work, I spend my time translating geek speak to business speak as a marketing and technical writer for IBM. For fun, I crochet, write fiction, hike in the mountains and spend as much time as I can cuddling with my old cat Disco.

Online Workshop Update

Pre-pandemic, it would not be unheard of to spot one of Kramden Institute’s instructors loading up the minivan with laptops and an overhead projector screen for an offsite Basic Computer Class. At the same time, another may be seen prepping for summer camp, while another headed out to teach an afterschool technology workshop.

Like many of Kramden’s programs, class operations shifted in March to find ways to provide services safely. On March 26, Kramden launched its Online Workshops program and has since provided classes to over 760 total students. Children and adults ages 9 to 87 have participated in a wide range of STEM workshops covering topics ranging from Image Editing to a Build a PC Live Demo. To date, 75 workshop sessions have been held.

Technology Education Manager, Marshall Burkes has been thrilled with the great response to the online courses.

“Teaching online has been extremely rewarding as an instructor because we’re able to give people an outlet for their energy and curiosity. Both kids and adults are eager to learn and connect with people.” – Marshall Burkes, Technology Education Manager

As Lead Instructor Lile Stephens shared, “One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching online is seeing how excited students get when something clicks, as well as their eagerness to ‘share’ what they have been working on.”

Students of all ages have responded with positive feedback, noting similar enthusiasm to learn something new. “It was both educational and fun.” said Malachi, an elementary schooler.  Cole, a college student, wrote, “Great overview. it definitely gave me the confidence to open up [the app] and get started.” “Extremely informative. This instructor is outstanding. Wish I had more teachers like him when I was in school. Excellent teaching style!” said Patricia.

Kramden’s online workshops were made possible by COVID-relief grant funding from Strowd Roses Foundation, Best Buy, and Protolabs. The Education Team is continuously working to develop new online class and workshop offerings. Visit kramden.org/classes to check out the latest.

Supporter Spotlight: Breanna Jackson

 

In the months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kramden Institute has seen a tremendous outpouring of support from our community. These donations have allowed Kramden to continue our work, connecting individuals to technology at a time when digital access is essential.

Earlier this week, we reached out to donor Breanna Jackson, who shared why she selected Kramden for her Facebook Birthday Fundraiser.  Breanna recently crowdfunded over $3,000 for Kramden and has been chosen for this month’s Supporter Spotlight!

 

 

How did you first hear about Kramden?

I heard about Kramden from working at Cisco Systems in RTP, NC. They would have a few volunteer events within the IT department with Kramden, and I heard good things about the organization.

Is there something about Kramden’s work/mission in particular that you connect with? (e.g. computers for kids, recycling old computers, etc.) 

The more advanced the world gets with the development of technology, the more vital it is for everyone to have access to reliable technology. I’ve heard of the “Homework Gap” where students in low-income areas were having a hard time keeping up with homework requirements if they didn’t have a computer/internet at home. That problem always troubled me since education should be an equalizer between all levels of income and background. I connected with Kramden’s mission because I was happy to see a local organization working hard to tackle that problem for NC students.

What made you decide to support Kramden through your Facebook Birthday Fundraiser?  

With COVID-19 coming to the United States in March and large global protests in response to the death of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor in the summer, my anxiety about the inequality in the world reached a very high level. There was already a gap in who had reliable access to technology, and part of that includes systematic racism in black/brown communities. Coronavirus is making that gap even wider, with so many students taking classes from home. I wanted to do something productive that would help reduce the gap, so I brainstormed ways that would have a large positive impact. During my research, I remembered Kramden and their mission fit my drive to provide more computers to students in need.

With my Birthday coming up, I thought it would be a great time to raise a large amount of money to help make a difference in my local area. It was also a milestone birthday for me. I turned 30, so I decided to do “$30 for 30” to help increase the amount even more.

Any fun / geeky facts about yourself you would like to share?  

I come from an engineering background and once attempted to make a wedding planning mobile app soon after I got married myself. I like attending innovation challenges and hackathons to channel my creativity towards a problem.

 

Thank you, Breanna, for supporting Kramden’s mission!

 

Coastal Credit Union Foundation Funds Devices for Area Students

As schools across the state shifted to online learning last month, many local community college students found themselves dealing with an unforeseen challenge: either find a way to obtain a computer to participate in their courses remotely or fail to complete their classes. Thanks to funding from Coastal Credit Union Foundation, Kramden was able to distribute 150 laptops to Wake Tech and 100 laptops Durham Tech Community College students earlier this month. Kramden’s production team is now working on prepping an additional 75 laptops to help benefit a total of 175 Durham Tech students.

Coastal Credit Union has been a long-time partner of Kramden Institute, providing employee volunteer service hours and program funding since 2014. To date, 350 families have participated in Kramden’s Coastal-sponsored digital and financial literacy courses.

Coastal volunteers disassemble computers in Kramden’s warehouse in 2019.

This week the foundation announced that it would provide a second round of funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of $140,000 in unrestricted grants for several area nonprofits. The latest package includes a $50,000 grant to Kramden to help further provide computers to public school and community college students across the Triangle. The grant will allow Kramden to distribute devices to an additional 500 local families in need.

Coastal funding will support Kramden in awarding over 750 computers to area students.

Thank you to Coastal for continuing to support Kramden in our mission to bridge the digital divide!

Community Members Help Distribute Computers to Families in Need

DeAngela and her mom were already enrolled in Kramden Institute’s computer classes when she received a message from a local Early Head Start employee. After learning news that Kramden was giving away free computers to students, she jumped into action.

“If you’ve ever met me in person, you know that I’m a giver at heart,” said DeAngela. (PTA Treasurer, Substitute Teacher, Member of the Elite Dollz of Faith: Divine Connections…we’d say she’s right!)

DeAngela picks up computers at Kramden to drop off with local families.

“I see what happens to families who lack resources. A lot of local families are lacking in resources that children need to be successful and have a well-balanced academic experience. Not to mention, access to family and friends through technology can make a big difference at this time.”

-DeAngela T.

Over the past several days, DeAngela and her mom shared the opportunitely widely across their networks. Together, they were able to identify nine families in need. In order to help the families who were without transportation, DeAngela came by and loaded up the equipment into her personal vehicle. DeAngela says that she her mother have been busy this week distributing the computers across the Triangle. They even received the help of stylists at her local salon who chipped in to provide gas money. It truly takes a village, and we are so grateful for all those who have come together to support our community during this time of need.

Computer Class Participants Receive Laptops at Oldham Towers

Class Participant Linda holds up her new laptop.

Before now, Phillip had to use his cellphone to send emails and access social services information online. Linda’s employer recently invited her to work from home, but she needed a computer to be able to do so. Today, Phillip, Linda, and nine other Durham Residents took home a laptop computer thanks to funding from Charter Communication’s Spectrum Digital Education grant.

Eleven students completed their fourth and final computer class at Oldham Towers this morning. They left with new computer knowledge and a tool to help them achieve their personal and professional goals. “Even though I knew the basics, this class still taught me a lot of things I hadn’t known before. I would definitely recommend it to anyone I know.” Linda said.

After completing eight hours of basic computer training, each student received a free laptop computer with one year of technical support. This class was the first of six Charter-sponsored courses to be offered in the Triangle this year.