Job Seeking in the Digital Age Class Graduates

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Berthe receives her certificate from Marshall Burkes, Technology Education Coordinator at Kramden Institute, and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.

Kramden Institute and the Town of Chapel Hill completed the graduation of the second ‘Job Seeking in the Digital Age’ course at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Thursday, June 2.

Thirty adults from Chapel Hill public housing communities have now completed the course. Participants spend four weeks learning about online career resources, how to write an effective resumé and cover letter, the best ways to submit  job applications online and via email, and how to present themselves professionally in interviews and on social media.

Graduates receive a free laptop upon graduating from the course. The class and laptops were sponsored by Google Fiber.

The Mayor of Chapel Hill, Pam Hemminger, addressed the graduates in a congratulations speech and presented certificates to graduates. Berthe, a participant in multiple Kramden classes, hugged Hemminger as she received her certificate.

“Because I love the class so much I’m here a second time,” Berthe said. “[The course] has made me feel better so I don’t need to find jobs posted on the street. I can now go online to find them.”

Berthe loves the library, and she keeps library cards for herself and her six children. She was excited when she learned about this job readiness class, since she enjoyed her experience in Kramden’s Digital Literacy class last year.

Chris, who is currently working in the food industry and is an aspiring writer/blogger, looks forward to using his computer for a job search and writing practice.

During the final class session, Shannon Bailey, a reference librarian at the Chapel Hill Public Library, spoke about how to get a library card and showed students how to access the library portals to and


Kramden goes to Costa Rica

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Jason Ricker, Kramden’s Director of Technical Operations, shows a group of students how to use some of the apps on their new tablets.

Kramden Institute partnered with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club to award 101 laptops and 60 tablets to students at nine schools in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica. For most of the students, this is the first time they have had access to technology and educational apps.

Each school received training on how to use and care for the equipment during a 30-minute orientation led by Costa Rican native, Henry Vargas. Vargas has been trained by Kramden on the refurbishing process and operating system and has completed the Kramden Digital Literacy Curriculum. He will revisit all nine schools in three months to conduct training workshops and repair any equipment.

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Students and teachers pose with their tablets and computers on the front steps of their school.

Jason Ricker, Director of Technical Operations at Kramden Institute, was able to award the computers and tablets to the students. “The biggest impact was getting technology into the hands of students with no access,” he said. “There are some schools where the only technology is the teacher’s smart phone,” Ricker said.


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Kramden volunteer Erica Ricker gathers an audience for a quick demonstration of the tablet.

All computers featured the Spanish language version of the Ubermix operating system. This is the second year that Kramden and the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club have worked together to bring computers to Alajuela.

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Kramden laptops set up in a classroom at one of the schools.

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Students take turns using a demonstration tablet to play an educational game.

Kramden Won a STEMmy Award!

STEMmy award

Last night, Kramden was honored as the Youth Serving Organization of the Year by US 2020 RTP at the first annual STEMmy Awards. Also known as the Golden Gears, the STEMmy Awards honor individuals, organizations, and partners for their amazing work and contributions in making science, technology, engineering, and math more accessible for low-income, minority, and female students around the Triangle. Kramden was selected as a “nonprofit that connects youth in the community to a variety of engaging STEM opportunities.”

Other STEMmy winners include:

  • Student of the Year K-8: Mansi Goyal, Hunter GT/AIG Basics Magnet Elementary, Grade 5
  • Student of the Year 9-16: Joanna McDonald, Green Hope High School, Grade 11
  • STEM School of the Year, Lowes Grove Middle School
  • Mentor of the Year, Kenneth Lyle, Duke University
  • Higher Ed Department of the Year, Kenan Fellows Program, NC State University
  • STEM Industry Partner of the Year, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, RTP
  • RTPi3 Essay Contest Winner- Benjamin Warlick, Charles D. Owen High School, Buncombe County

From The Classroom – a Handy Guide to Using GIMP



Two weeks ago, Kramden offered the Digital Image Editing Workshop at ReCity in Durham. Participants used GIMP, an open-source editing program with powerful features similar to Adobe Photoshop, to edit and resize photos and create graphics. The class also learned how to use layers and combine photos.

 Digital imaging worksheet front page

Miss the class but want to learn how to use GIMP? Lile Stephens, a Technology Education Instructor at Kramden, created this handy guide for the class. Based on a similar guide by Máirín Duffy, it will guide you through some of GIMP’s most important features.

Teen uses lawn-mowing money to fund incredible Apple collection

By David Pierini. Reposted with permission from

A 10-year-old kid in Maine finds an iMac G5 on Craigslist and arranges to trade a minibike and a snowblower for it.

For now, Alex’s Apple Orchard, a collection of vintage Apple devices purchased with lawn-mowing money, is in the basement of the Jason family home.
The computer was supposed to be for games and homework. It instead proved to be the first piece in what is becoming one of the most significant private collections of Apple devices in the United States.

Now 15, Alex Jason is on the verge of opening a public museum that will feature rare prototypes, a bound original copy of Steve Wozniak’s Woz Pak coding notes for the Apple II, and even a rare Apple I that may be the only one in existence with working original chips.

Nurturing an Apple Orchard

Alex’s Apple Orchard holds more than 250 pieces, most of which he purchased with money earned from mowing neighbors’ lawns.

 “I just wanted a nice computer,” the high school freshman said. “But I realized these computers are being thrown away. That’s kind of how it snowballed. I wanted to create a collection, share it online and create a museum.”Done, done and almost done. An old Carnegie Library was donated to Alex and his father, Bill, to house the collection, which is currently outgrowing the 1,000-square-foot basement of the family home. With renovations, including finding secure display cases, the museum could open by Alex’s junior year in high school.
The Apple Orchard will move to a public space in Maine. Photo courtesy of Alex Jason
Bill Jason and his son, Alex. Photo courtesy of Alex Jason

‘Top-20 collector’

There are probably a few thousand Apple collectors worldwide, people who have several devices that they display around their home, explains Jonathan Zufi, whose photography book iConic is a comprehensive visual history of Apple products. Of those collecting all things Apple, he estimates 50 are serious shepherds of large collections, he said.

“Alex is an amazing kid,” says Zufi. “He definitely has a massive collection and would probably be in the top 20.”

If you close your eyes, you easily forget Alex is just 15. He talks like a seasoned hardware engineer and can back up the language because of a self-taught understanding of how to restore the machines.

Alex’s parents bought him the minibike because they were popular with kids used to playing in the outdoors of their rural Maine community. He rode it until the chain broke.

His story has a familiar ring to it, the tinkering kid who eagerly helped his dad change oil on the tractor. At school, he would take apart mechanical pencils so he could study how the graphite was fed through the shaft.

But, Alex quickly discovered he could not tinker much with his G5 because it was already at its limit for upgrading. So he sought older Macs for sale to take them apart, get them working, and learn how they are put together. This way, he could tinker without breaking something around the house, he said.

Museum blueprint

Most of his initial acquisitions came from his home state. In one purchase, he got 10 computers including an Apple 3 and a joystick that turned out to be a prototype, his first. His father found a clear-plastic prototype mouse on eBay and gave it to Alex for his birthday.

By the time Alex had 55 items, the blueprint for a museum began to form in his mind. Father and son attended vintage computer shows, where Alex met other collectors who helped him with acquisitions, and ex-Apple engineers still holding on to prototypes they worked on.

Some of the pre-production prototype devices on display in Alex’s basement.
Photo courtesy of Alex Jason

Alex says engineers like to hold on to the prototypes but are often willing to part with them providing the devices, often in clear plastic, find a good home.“I didn’t really know where this was going at first,” Bill Jason says. “He started mowing lawns in the neighborhood to buy more computers and then more computers … I’m proud he found a passion and ran with it. My job is to be co-pilot. Now I’ve given up my passion (cycling) to do this with him.”

Alex is itching to share his collection with the public, but for obvious reasons, can’t hold visiting hours at their home. Any visitor who gets the privilege of an invitation know they are in for something special as they descend the basement steps.

On the wall are large banners and advertisements for iMacs and other Apple products. A long table holds two rows of every color of iMac ever made, including Flower Power and Dalmatian.

His collection includes every big Apple computer model except a rare Lisa 1. He has early portable computers, prototypes of Powerbooks, a green-plastic prototype of a Color Classic and Japanese models of early Macs. The orchard also includes Apple’s failures while Jobs was in exile as well as a computer from the company he started after, NeXT.

Alex showed off his Apple 1 (only around 170 sold and about 60 have surfaced), its keyboard adapted to a briefcase, which provided protection and may explain why all the original chips still work. The original owner, according to a story passed onto Alex, supposedly went to an IBM conference with his briefcase, opened it up and began typing. When curious conference-goers asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m typing on my personal computer.”

The Jasons keep the Apple I at another location, where it is more secure, and have not shown it to too many people.

Bill Jason recently quit his job to prepare to open a museum, which they want to call the Maine Technology Museum, and include other science and technology exhibits.

Supporter Spotlight – Sam Kim

Kramden is an organization that depends on the generosity of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers. It is their support that enables thousands of students to bridge the digital divide every year. Each month, we like to take a moment to get to know one of our longtime supporters and share that conversation with our community.

This month we sat down with Sam Kim.  Sam has been volunteering at Kramden for close to 10 years and can often be found sorting through piles of parts in the laptop room, breathing new life into discarded computers. We asked him to share a bit about his experiences as Kramden volunteer.



How did you first get involved with Kramden?

I read an article in the News & Observer about Kramden.  I had just relocated to the area, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to meet people to become involved in the community.


What keeps you coming back?

The people.  I have met some of the funniest, kindest and smartest people at Kramden.  It is one of the few places I know where people are valued for knowledge, skill and willingness to learn.  Kramden is where the cast of Big Bang Theory would hang out if they lived in the area.


What do you like most about volunteering at Kramden?

Laughter and treasure hunting.

A while back, another volunteer and I spent a few hours working on a computer.   Both of us could not identify the problem then a 12 year-old girl walked over and bam!  She fixed the problem in 20 seconds flat.  It was humbling and we still laugh about it to this day.

From time to time, we find relics from the past.  I remember finding a working “walkman” and explaining to the kids about life before Spotify, iPod, iTunes…. Back when dinosaurs roamed, men would make mixed tapes and offer it to a women as a sign of interest….  It is amazing what comes through the door to be recycled.


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

For me, the mission to bridge the digital divide is a big one.  I can make a difference with every refurbished computer.  Aside from social responsibility, environmental stewardship is evident in Kramden’s recycling program.  Every fixed computer is one less for the dump.

Last year, I lost my nephew in an automobile accident.  At 18, Jake was a brilliant mathematician with a bright career ahead of him.  It was a terrible and senseless loss, and Kramden’s message of helping kids to be their best is now even closer to my heart.


When not at Kramden, what do you like to do?

Riding my motorcycle whenever I am able.  Believe it or not, it is equipped with discarded but now repaired GPS and other things which were headed for recycling.  It just took a bit of imagination, electronic skills, and a 3D printer.

Also, contrarily to popular belief, I do have a full-time job with a biotech company in RTP.


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

I really enjoy working on laptops.  They are a marvel of engineering.  When I am on the road for work, I am known to “field strip” my work laptop down to component parts before cleaning and reassembling it back.  I find it relaxing.

I know, it is super dorky, right? ….


Do you have a favorite story about your time at Kramden to share?

Last year, I met a volunteer…. a college student … who received one of our computer as a high school student.  She remembered the positive impact we had on her life and it was now her turn to volunteer to help with the next generation.  I don’t know why Generation X has a reputation for being uninspired or uninvolved…. I work with them every week and they are anything but slackers.


What made you decide to support Kramden financially in addition to giving your time as a volunteer?

Three years ago, I was listening to WUNC’s pledge drive and I realized that every reason to support the local NPR and PBS stations also applied to Kramden.

Who doesn’t want to visit a place where everyone knows your name and you are always welcomed with a smile, joke and something interesting to play with. Yeah, Kramden is “Cheers” for geeks.  Why wouldn’t I support it financially?


Anything else you would like to share?

Noooo… I am surprised that you haven’t fallen asleep by now….


Thank you Sam for all of the amazing work that you do!


Ashlyn VanDine is Geek of the Week!



Ashlyn VanDine is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Ashlyn has been volunteering with Kramden for the last year and a half and is a regular at our Wednesday Work Nights. For her Girl Scout Silver Award project, she helped launch the Coders Club at Kramden, a monthly meeting for students in grades 6-8 to learn the basics of coding. Ashlyn’s volunteer work was recently featured in an article she wrote for


Favorite Geek Books: The Found series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Favorite Geek Website:

Favorite Geek Movie: Hunger Games

Favorite Geek TV Show: Doctor Who

What is the Geekiest Think About You? I love books and often choose to read instead of socializing

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? The fact that the computers that we refurbish go to kids that need a computer. 

Best Kramden Moment?My first time doing Triage and learning from my dad how everything worked. 

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? I play softball for my school team (Rams ROCK!), hanging out with my friends, sleeping or reading. 




Supporter Spotlight – Peter Eckhoff

Kramden is an organization that depends on the generosity of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers. It is their support that enables thousands of students to bridge the digital divide every year. Each month, we like to take a moment to get to know one of our longtime supporters and share that conversation with our community.

This month we sat down with Peter Eckhoff.  Peter has been a fixture in our warehouse for the past two years. Part of our regular group of daytime volunteers, he often helps out with special projects and shows off his Super Geek skills while leading volunteers during corporate work days. He can usually be found near the Triage benches with a big smile on his face.

We asked him to share a bit about his experiences as Kramden volunteer.



How did you first get involved with Kramden?

I first became aware of Kramden when I was dropping off used computer equipment at semi-annual recycling events held at the old Nortel site in RTP.  After retiring, I looked Kramden online and made a point of participating in a Wednesday Work Night session.  I really liked the program. I was hooked.

What keeps you coming back? 

There are a number of qualities about the Kramden program.  It is well organized with very congenial staff.  The core mission of refurbishing computer systems for vetted but needy school age kids is something that is needed.  The recycling of e-waste in the near triple digit tonnage keeps a lot of this material out of our landfills.  To me, the whole program is a win-win-win situation.

I’ve done computer programming for a long time and I am well aware of the positive impacts that computers have made on our society.  This program affords kids the opportunity who would not have that opportunity to explore the use of computers and to discover their own positive uses along the way.

What do you like most about volunteering at Kramden?

I find the tasks challenging but not daunting and I like working with the staff and other volunteers.

The whole program has been designed so that someone without much experience with computers can walk in off the street and not be overwhelmed by a lot of technical hurdles.  There are tasks that are non-technical in nature to somewhat technical but very doable by a neophyte.  The Wednesday Work Night program is a great way to be introduced to Kramden and its mission.

While I’ve been designated a “Super Geek”, I find the staff a lot more knowledgeable and accommodating.  Between the staff and online resources, I can generally find a solution to any stray issue that comes along.

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

I think it is in seeing the kids eyes light up especially when they were not expecting a system. I like the idea of doing something for a student who does not have the means to buy a system but has earned the respect of a teacher says a lot about us as a people.  It’s payback for all those who have done something for someone else who at the time was not in a position to repay a kindness.

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

I purchased an Apple back in ’78 and wrote a simple program in BASIC. I used it to teach my kids to type their names and spell before they could even write words on paper. The kids enjoyed it a lot.  It was fun watching their eyes light up and seeing them have a sense of accomplishment.

I purchased an A to D converter board for the Apple.  I intercepted and recorded a weather FAX signal off a HF radio station.   I wrote an assembly language program to process the signal and send it to a printer “in real-time”.  I was able to actually read part of a weather chart but the problem was that the signal faded in and out.   It was a great exercise, learned a lot, but the signal was not all that reliable.  I’ve been hooked on computers and their capabilities for a long time.

Before retiring, what did you do?

I worked as an Environmental Scientist with the US EPA.  I did some related computer programming and compared modeling results with ambient measured air pollutant concentrations.  I was always surprised at how well the models did overall.

When not at Kramden, what do you like to do?

I like to read and there is a wealth of information on the internet. This helped me to track down a lot of my high school classmates for a 2001 multi-class reunion and later, for my class’s 50th high school reunion. I also like studying up on our energy and transportation situations, and in finding some fantastic minds out there with a great deal of insights and varied opinions.

I still like to program and have been slowly learning Python.  However, it’s easier for me to revert back to BASIC (and Fortran) but the capabilities of Python far exceed the capabilities of BASIC.  Once into Python, I can see having a lot of fun with various Make[magazine]-type STEM projects.

Anything else you would like to share?

I always wanted to find employment where I loved the work and got paid.  This is the next best thing.  P.S.  They’re promising to double my salary!! 😉

Thank you Peter for all of the amazing work that you do!


Troy DeSpain is Geek of the Week!



Troy DeSpain is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Troy is a high school senior at Franklin Academy and has been volunteering with Kramden Institute since 2012. Most recently, Troy organized a computer equipment drive at his school and collected 29 desktops, 33 laptops, 19 monitors, and many other peripherals which will support Kramden’s computer programs.

Favorite Geek Website:

Favorite Geek Movie: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

What is the Geekiest Think About You? I enjoy computer programming and I am taking AP Computer Science this year.

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? My favorite thing about volunteering at Kramden is awarding the computers to students. I enjoy teaching them how to use the new software and being able to see how grateful they are to receive a computer.

Best Kramden Moment? The first time I took a computer apart by myself. I had always worked on the software side of computers, so hardware was completely new to me.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? Besides computer programming, I also enjoy photography and playing the piano. My favorite types of photography are landscapes and macro/close-up.




The White House Offers a Look at The Digital Divide in the United States

WH peek at the digital divide in the US