Volunteer Spotlight: The Goodnight Scholars

Take a peek into Kramden’s warehouse on any given day and you will find it bustling with volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Kramden relies on volunteers daily to join in our mission to bridge the digital divide. Offering their experience, skills, and enthusiasm for working with technology, volunteers are one of Kramden’s most valuable assets.

Last fall, a group of NCSU students reached out with a special request. As part of the Goodnight Scholars Program’s mantra to “pay it forward,” the Goodnight Scholars Class of 2019 wanted to support a charitable organization as part of their senior class gift by both volunteering their time and raising funds for Kramden.

Founded in 2008 with a gift from Dr. Jim and Ann Goodnight, the Goodnight Scholars program was established with the goal of helping North Carolina students from low- and middle-income families become leaders in the STEM and educational fields.

The Goodnight Scholars have joined Kramden several times this school year to put their technical skills to work, troubleshooting newly refurbished computers and preparing them to be distributed to students. Visit https://goodnight.ncsu.edu/ to learn more about the program.

“Serving at Kramden was a blast! We loved taking apart the machines together and learned a lot about fixing computers in the process. Volunteers do not always see the end results of their labor, so I was excited to watch the finished computers leave the assembly ready to be distributed. My favorite part about volunteering here, however, was the direct impact of our assembled machines in making learning more enjoyable for North Carolina students, the future of STEM.”

Timothy Chen, Mechanical Engineering Student and Goodnight Scholar

Kramden is always looking for volunteers with a passion for our mission and willingness to help. We currently have a particular need for daytime volunteers on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and Thursday and Friday mornings. Register for an upcoming volunteer event here.

Keith Ertel is Geek of the Year!

2018 was a big year for Kramden with more than 3,400 volunteers logging over 13,500 hours! This year, one of our top volunteers, Keith Ertel, has been selected as Kramden’s Geek of the Year. Keith contributed over 230 volunteer hours in 2018, bringing his total time at Kramden to over 600 hours!


We checked in with our Geek of the Year (and former Geek of the Week) to find out some of Keith’s favorite things about Kramden.

As one of our top volunteers in 2018, what was your favorite project or event you helped out with this year?

My favorite project was any one that involved a “Your update is downloading, please wait a few minutes” message and a spinning hourglass on the screen. Seriously, I have enjoyed all the activities I participated in this year. Working on-site gave me a chance to interact with some great people and learn new things, as did the offsite events. And helping out at the recycling events showed me I am not the only one who is reluctant to part with older technology.

You’ve been volunteering with Kramden for over 3 years now. What keeps you coming back?

I’ve been blessed throughout my life and I believe trying to give something back is important. Why Kramden? I like the fact that the mission is focused is on helping young people/students. They benefit, and technology that is still useful is kept out of the landfill. Another important consideration is the people. The staff is great, as are the many volunteers I’ve worked with. I like the spirit of camaraderie. And I like the nature of the work. I spent many an hour typing ‘peek’ and ‘poke’ statements to transcribe programs from a magazine onto my Commodore 64, and I’ve built most of the computers I’ve owned since then. Volunteering at Kramden helps me keep my inner geek alive.

A great big thanks to Keith and to all of the Kramden volunteers of 2018! Your work brings us one step closer to bridging the digital divide.

Program Impact

Kramden’s Community Education & Access program provides participants with eight hours of basic computer training and a computer upon completion. In the first 6 months of 2018, 230 participants completed the program. Recently, Kramden surveyed these participants to see how their newfound computer knowledge and device has impacted their lives. Results are shown below.


Lights, Camera, Action! at Video Exploration Camp

At Video Exploration camp, campers filmed and edited several video projects including an interview and a movie trailer. The students took turns editing and shooting for their projects, which turned out really well. The camp provided everyone with a solid foundation for using video for their own personal projects in the future.

Campers worked in groups to create a mock interview, during which they learned how to use lighting, external microphones, and multiple camera angles. Campers used storyboard techniques to organize and order their shots for another group project, a movie trailer. They prepared scripts, found or created sound effects, voiceovers, and soundtracks, and found photo backgrounds to use as their green-screened ‘backdrops.’ Campers got a lot of hands-on time with a web-based video editor called WeVideo. We covered technical aspects such as trimming, multi-tracking, transitions, sound effects and foley, audio levels, and greenscreen compositing.

Space is still available in the August 13-17 session of Video Exploration Camp (for grades 6-8). Use code AUGUST20 to get $20 off your registration. Register here.

Inset photo: A student records a scene.
Top photo: Interview filming in progress.

Campers create inspiring images in Photo Exploration Camp

Our first session of Photo Exploration Camp in June was inspiring. It was exciting to see the group’s progress and how much fun they had taking and editing photos. The students took their work to a higher level and developed a better eye for design and composition.

Projects included photographing still lifes, landscapes, and portraits. Students also learned how to incorporate personal reflection and feedback from others into their projects to improve their photos. The results were beautiful, especially the still life and portrait assignments, where the students had to use three point lighting and create images that reflected concepts they developed beforehand.

Space is still available in the August 6-10 session of Photo Exploration Camp (for grades 6-8). Use code AUGUST20 to get $20 off your registration. Register here.

Inset photo: Portrait of Courtney by Olivia.
Top photo: Deck of cards still life by Maurice.

Laptops and Tablets Awarded in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua

This February, Kramden Institute, in partnership with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club, GCF Global, and the Center for Development in Central America awarded 42 laptops and 70 tablets to the students of Ciudad Sandino in Nicaragua.


Volunteer Stephanie Schenck, a PHD student in Literacy Language and Culture at Clemson, and Rotary Peace Fellow, Moh Eid, aided in the distribution and training of the educators on how to use the technology in the classroom.

Devices went to two primary schools and one secondary school in the area. Included with the devices were power conditioners and backup batteries to combat the poor electrical grid. 6 laptops were also provided for the dental clinic at Jubilee House to be used for analyzing x-rays and charting.

This was Kramden’s third year partnering with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club to bring computers to Central America.

Take Control of Your Passwords

Our passwords are the keys to our lives in the 21st century. We use them to access our email accounts, online banking, fantasy football, and much more. With passwords piling up for so many sites and each site having slightly different requirements, it gets tough to remember them all.

So what do most of us do? We use the same password for multiple websites, maybe adding a number or changing a letter here or there. And that basic password often is pretty simple, like the name of a pet or favorite sports team.

This creates two problems. First, short or simple passwords are very easy for hackers to guess. Hackers use automated programs that quickly guess millions of common English words, phrases, and generic passwords like ‘abcd1234’.  Second, if you use the same password on multiple sites, a hacker you also make it easy for them to break into multiple sites once they break into one.

So how do you make your passwords better?  Start by creating a unique password for every site. Then make sure those passwords are all complex (*_23nMK03t5#) and/or very long (mydeskchairisbigandred). This nerdy comic from the website xkcd.com does a great job of explaining why long passwords are a good idea.

So stronger, unique passwords increase your security significantly. But now there’s a new wrinkle – how do you remember them all? There are three simple ways to get around this conundrum.

  • Write all of your passwords down on paper and keep them in a safe place. This is a good option if you don’t use many websites and usually log in from home. It’s not as convenient if you browse on mobile devices – or, if you’re like me, you have terrible handwriting and can’t tell if that last character is a zero or a capital O.
  • Store all of your passwords in a password-protected document on your computer or phone. This works only if you the file with you. If your hard drive dies without a backup, or if your device is stolen, you lose all of your passwords.
  • Use a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane. This is the best way to go if you have a lot of passwords and connect from many devices.

What is a password manager?

A password manager is an app that stores your passwords in a secure file and retrieves them automatically. It will even type them for you. All you need to do is enter your username and master password. That’s right – all you have to do is remember one password. They also have tools that help generate strong passwords for you whenever you set up a new account. If you have a weak or duplicate password, they will let you know.

Another nice thing about password managers is that you can securely store all sorts of sensitive information beyond passwords. Everything from answers to security questions to banking information and more.

What are the drawbacks of a password manager?

Like anything involving computers and the Internet, there are some tradeoffs, though they are pretty small in this case. If someone finds out your master password, they can access all of your other passwords. For this reason, most password managers employ multi-factor authentication such as texting a code or scanning your fingerprint. The other risk is that a hacker will breach the password manager’s central system. The most popular services are very good about encrypting all user data.

You’ve convinced me. Now what?

Great! It’s now time to choose a password manager. There are a ton of different services out there, each with its own pros and cons. For me, it ultimately comes down to a balance of features and cost. Several offer great free versions. CNET has put together this great list of their favorite password managers to help you compare them. I encourage you to read it before making a decision. LastPass (free with a $24 paid version) and Dashlane ($39.99) are two that are frequently recommended and work on all sorts of devices.

Want even more information? This article from Consumer Reports has tons of information about password managers, their security, the risks, how to choose a service, and how to set them up.

Rocky Mount Students Receive Computers

By Corey Davis, Staff Writer, Rocky Mount Telegram

It was a promise fulfilled.

Dorothy Hinton, director of Community Partnerships and Programs of Communities in Schools of the Rocky Mount Region, said she talked about how the state could bring more resources to the area with Secretary of Information Technology and State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette during his visit last year to deliver school supplies to D.S. Johnson Elementary School.

After some brainstorming, Boyette and his staff connected with the Kramden Institute, a nonprofit organization that collects, refurbishes and awards computers to students and families without a computer in their home, to work out a plan to help students through the use of computers.

On Friday, 50 second-grade students at Fairview Elementary School received refurbished desktop computers from the Kramden Institute. Hinton thanked Boyette, who is a native of Eastern North Carolina, for keeping his word in helping bring more resources to Nash-Rocky Mount schools in Edgecombe County.

Boyette said technology is the equalizer that erases geographic barriers.

“Whether we’re talking about economic growth, civic engagement, education or health care, technology is the key to the future,” he said. “Placing computers in the hands of these students will not only help them today, but it positions them for success in an interconnected, global world that is only limited by their imaginations.”

Hinton said factors like socioeconomics and students that had the greatest need for desktop computers went into the decison on who received the computers. Ann Edge, chairwoman of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education, said giving students computers is an opportunity to decrease the digital divide and help them get connected to the 21st  Century online economy and society.

Hinton said providing students with access to technology in this digital age is more critical than it has ever been.

“At CIS, our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life,” she said. “For many children, a laptop expands opportunities for learning and helps them to understand that people in this community and around our state believe in them and want them to be successful. That is incredibly encouraging for a young person in challenging circumstances.”

The computer distribution was underwritten by a contribution from AT&T, which has a history of supporting and expanding educational opportunities that help students succeed both inside and outside the classroom, said Robert Doreauk, regional director of external affairs for AT&T North Carolina.

“We strongly believe that every child has the potential to achieve something great, regardless of your neighborhood or economic situations,” Doreauk said. “For a student, a computer is the key to unlocking the future and to fulfilling hopes and dreams. We are pleased to support the staff and volunteers of CIS as they work to make a difference in the lives of students and families.”

Story originally published in the Rocky Mount Telegram

Public housing residents bridging the digital divide

Digital learning instructor Beverly Williams, who is a resident of public housing, gives some hands-on help to Mattie Clay at the Wilson Housing Authority’s first digital learning class at Whitfield Homes Community Center. Clay, 86, said the chance to learn about computers and get the laptop when she was done with the classes pushed her out of the house to attended the digital training.

Mattie Clay wants to be able to do the same things that her children and grandchildren do.

Gloria Whitley wants to go back to school.

Her husband, Bobby Whitley, wants to do away with all of the paperwork that he has accumulated around their home.

For all of them, the key to unlocking their dreams is to learn how to use the computer to do the same tasks that many people now consider part of their daily lives.

The difference for them and for thousands of people like them in Wilson County is that computers aren’t part of their daily lives. The wealth of information and resources that are available at the simple click of mouse to anyone who has a computer isn’t available to those who don’t have one and don’t come in daily contact with them.

This split is known as the digital divide and to help residents of public housing in Wilson overcome it, the Wilson Housing Authority has partnered with the Kramden Institute of Durham to teach basic computer digital classes — 15 people at a time.

The classes are taught in four two-hour sessions and start with the basics, right down to how you properly turn a computer on and off. In addition to learning how to navigate your way around the computer and become familiar with it, other sessions teach residents how to use basic office programs, browse the internet, use social media and share information.

Anyone who attends all four sessions will receive a refurbished laptop computer, one year of technical support and a USB drive to store their information, all from Kramden.

The computers are being provided by a grant that was awarded to Kramden Institute. Kramden also provided training late last year to two people from the Wilson Housing Authority to teach the classes. One of the teachers is Cathy Kent, the housing authority’s resident services director, and the other is a public housing resident, Beverly Williams. Both of the teachers are receiving a stipend from Kramden for teaching the classes.

Kent recruited Williams to be the second teacher. Kent knew Williams was used to dealing with technology and has a good way with people, and felt she felt that Williams could use those skills to teach these computer skills to her fellow residents.

“I have grown up with all of this,” said Williams. “It is a beautiful opportunity for the people in housing and I am happy to be part of it.”

The classes are being taught at the Whitfield Homes Community Center and there will be two four-week sessions. The first session is underway and is full and there is a waiting list for the second session. If both sessions go well, there is a possibility of partnering with Kramden to offer more classes at a later date.

“There are many obstacles to overcome when creating programs to bridge the digital divide,” said Cari DelMariani, the director of programs for the Kramden Institute. “This partnership between Kramden and the Wilson Housing Authority is especially effective because it provides residents with not only devices but access to training and low cost internet. I believe this program will be a model we can easily replicate in many more N.C. communities.”

Offering the digital literacy classes is a continuation of the push that the Wilson Housing Authority has made in the last couple of years to improve the access that its public housing residents have to high-speed broadband services and to resources that will help them be able to take advantage of this access.

In 2016, the housing authority partnered with the city of Wilson’s Greenlight service to provide low-cost high-speed broadband access to nearly all of the Wilson Housing Authority’s public housing units. Currently, the deal, which includes high-speed broadband for $10 a month and a free Wi-Fi modem, is available to 591 public housing units and 235 families are taking advantage of it.

“Now that we have high-speed broadband available to most of our public housing units the next step is to help our residents become more digital literate so they can take advantage of all of the resources that are out there,” said Kelly Vick, president and CEO of the Wilson Housing Authority. “Partnering with the Kramden Institute and making this training and classes available is an important part of making sure that our public housing residents have the same opportunities that other people have.”

Gloria Whitley said the class and the chance at the free computer was enough to convince her that it was time to complete her GED and go back to school. The 61-year-old said she has worked and volunteered in schools much of her life, but that she would like to get more education so she could possibly work for Wilson County Schools.

As motivated as she is to complete the classes, she said her husband Bobby wanted to go before she did.

“He wants to get all of our paperwork and finances on the computer and do away with a lot of our paperwork,” Gloria said.

For Mattie Clay, 86, the chances to learn more about using computers is solely for her.

“I want to be able to use email and go on the internet,” Clay said. “I am glad that I am not too old to try something new.”

This story was produced by Wilson Housing Authority staff

Durham public housing community gets free high-speed internet Google Fiber access


Reposted from the Herald Sun. Read the original story here

In the Laurel Oaks neighborhood, if it happens, Shaqueelah Shaw knows about it.

That’s why she was first in line when she heard Google Fiber was coming to her neighborhood.

Google, the tech company best known for its online search engine, is bringing its high-speed internet service to Durham one neighborhood at a time.

This time Google paired with the Durham Housing Authority to offer its high-speed service free to a public housing neighborhood — the first in Durham and in the state, according to Google officials who were at an unveiling on Saturday at Laurel Oaks. They said more public housing neighborhoods would receive the free service in the future.

Shaw said having Google as an option for internet service was a huge blessing. She was switching from a pay service to the free Google service and will save about $70 per month, which is the cost of the company’s Fiber 1000 plan.

“I knew about Google but not Google Fiber,” Shaw said. “When they came to my house and talked about it with me, I knew it was going to be good for my family and all the residents here. I’m one of the most active residents out here and I let others know what’s going on. I try to keep everyone aware because there are so many changes we’re seeing.”

Laurel Oaks, which is near the intersection of East Cornwallis Road and Alston Avenue, has 30 apartments that all received the Fiber internet connection. It was chosen because of its proximity to Google’s main Fiber line and for the high number of families with school-age children living there.

Daniel Hudgins, who is chairman of the DHA board of commissioners, said Laurel Oaks was an ideal candidate for the program.

“This broadband access will be such a benefit for the families with school-age children,” Hudgins said.

Laurel Oaks, which is one of 16 Durham Housing Authority neighborhoods in the city, is one of the smaller communities.

It took about 18 months for the project, which is part of a federal HUD program called ConnectHome Community, to become a reality.

“This is the first Durham Housing Authority neighborhood to receive Google Fiber,” said Sam Wicks, who works with ConnectHome for the Durham Housing Authority. “The whole point of this is to eliminate the digital divide.”

Wicks said this is a national initiative and Durham was chosen to be among the first cities to participate.

Faster internet is not the only service being offered. Residents are receiving digital literacy training and support, too.

The non-profit Kramden Institute is offering free refurbished computers so that they can get online.“We’ve done more than bring internet,” said Google community impact manager Tia Bethea. “We’ve had digital literacy training as well as followup classes for residents. We’ve made sure everyone has a device in their home and now we’re bringing service to them and the neighborhood. There are so many benefits of having a faster internet connection for people looking for jobs and helping their children with their homework.”

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said Google’s presence in Durham will continue to grow beyond its program with the DHA.

“This is wonderful,” Schewel said. “This neighborhood is receiving the highest speed internet Google offers. And as Google expands into Durham, they’re going to be continuing to wire other neighborhoods, including more Durham Housing Authority communities.”