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. 




Kramden in the News: Fixing Computers for Good

By Bridgette A. Lacy, News from RTP

When fourth-grader Willie Shaw brought home a refurbished computer, it came packed with a gateway of opportunity.

The computer comes with an open source operating system called Ubermix that is less vulnerable to viruses and malware. In addition, the computer is loaded with more than 60 programs including LibreOffice, an office suite similar to Microsoft Office; Scratch, a free programming language where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations; Stellarium, a virtual planetarium; and Audacity, an audio editor.

Willie is just one of thousands of students awarded a computer by Kramden Institute.  Kramden was founded in July 2003 by Mark and Ned Dibner, a father and son. “Kramden” is ‘Mark’ and ‘Ned’ spelled backwards. The idea came from Ned, then 13, who suggested to his father that they refurbish and fix older computers to donate to middle school honor-roll students in Durham who could not afford home computers.

The two-person operation that started with 90 personal computers and 50 monitors has grown substantially. Kramden Institute now has 30 Super Geeks, a 10-member management team and 1,000 volunteers including retirees and Research Triangle Park employees.

It has awarded more than 22,800 computers to deserving students across 78 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Kramden partners with numerous schools, other non-profits and military aid organizations across the state to award computers to those struggling to bridge the digital divide.

For Willie Shaw and his siblings, a computer becomes a window to a world beyond his modest circumstances. It opens doors to people, places and possibilities beyond their immediate environment.

“It’s pretty awesome,” says Willie’s mother, Kelly Hayes. She explains that Willie shares the computer with his older sister, Jazmine and his younger brother, Brandon.  “I didn’t realize how many programs were already on it,” she says.

Like Willie’s teacher in Northeast Raleigh, Rodney L. Smith, an assistant principal of Apex Middle School in Apex, has witnessed the impact giving a computer to a student can make. “Having access puts everyone on the same playing field,” he says. “Having a computer is now is like having a pencil.”

Smith has been recommending students to Kramden Institute for the last three years.

He explains that while the students who receive the computer are already high achievers, their grades often go up immediately because of all the learning programs they now have access too.

Don Rowe, a MetLife IT vendor management consultant, and Kramden team management volunteer, says he’s almost brought to tears when he helps pass out computers to students and their families.

“It’s like Christmas for them and they just got the toy they always wanted,” he says. He understands that for some parts of society, a computer is common place, but that this is not the case for everyone.

At one event, he recalls a mother’s handwritten thank-you note in her native Spanish language expressing her appreciation for a computer for her son. She wrote that the laptop was going to help her son who was a hard-worker but struggling in some of his subjects.

It’s those heart-warming stories that keep Rowe donating his time and resources to Kramden. In 2009, he started refurbishing computers for them. Eventually, he went from giving his 20 hours there to assisting them in charting a plan to get more corporate donations instead of relying so much on government grants, which were drying up.

Last year, MetLife donated 400 laptops and 600 desktops and monitors. The MetLife Foundation also contributed a $25,000 grant. Rowe also organizes MetLife’s volunteers for Wednesday work nights refurbishing computer sessions, normally they have 6 per year.

Rowe, the son of a social worker, said he was taught by his mother to volunteer his time early in life. He likes encouraging others to do so as well. Last year, more than 250 MetLife volunteers took part in the “Geek-A-Thon,” refurbishing 400 computers, and loading them with an Ubermix operating system and the latest in educational software.

Kramden offers a chance for any individual or corporation to get involved. Lisa Jemision, director of RTP Programs, says Kramden Institute gives residents a place to recycle their electronics and an opportunity to help those in their community with digital literacy.

Discarded, old computers may contain up to 8 pounds of lead along with lower levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and other toxic chemical. So recycling them makes it safer for the environment.

Meanwhile, disadvantage families can benefit from having a refurbished computer in the home. “We are bridging the digital divide,” Jemison says.


The original article can be found here.

Durham County Government Technology Finds a Second Life


Durham County replaces computers, laptops, and tablets every four years rotating between departments from year to year. Could you imagine these devices (almost 1,800) going to waste? They don’t! Through programs developed with community partners this technology goes back to the residents of Durham.

In 2007, finding new homes for surplus computers was a priority for the Durham Board of County Commissioners. Headed by Aaron Stone, Computers 4 Kids, was born.  Computers 4 Kids is a collaborative initiative between Durham County, United Way of the Greater Triangle, the Volunteer Center of Durham, and the Durham Public School System.

These programs go to the heart of why we work in local government. They allows us to give back to this great community.
-Aaron Stone, Durham County, Manager of Client Support Services

United Way refurbished donated computers from Durham County which were provided to students of Durham Public Schools. Students between the ages of 8 and 12 were referred to the program by the Department of Social Services, school social workers, teachers, tutors or the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

Garnering attention across North Carolina, Computers 4 Kids was recognized by United way in 2009 with a “Closing the Achievement Gap” award. In 2010, The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners awarded Durham County “Outstanding County Program”. Computers 4 Kids also beat out many other state programs and won the “2011 NCLGISA Demo Slam” event and in 2012 won a quarterly NCLGISA “Government Innovation Grant Award”. Computers 4 Kids rapidly outgrew the available resources Durham County had available. The program ended and new donation initiatives emerged.

Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings proposed a partnership with Triangle Ecycling. Triangle Ecycling’s model provides a free educational opportunity for youth. High school students receive hands on experience in Triangle Ecycling’s shop refurbishing computers while learning environmental and humanitarian issues related to e-waste and sustainable business models. These refurbished computers are then donated or sold locally at below market prices in support of the program.

For Durham County, Triangle Ecycling manages logistics, security, and disposition of the County’s donated computers. Specific Durham nonprofits that support Durham Public School students and families are sought out to receive the County’s surplus of computers. Any computers deemed too outdated or unfit for refurbishment have all their data destroyed and recycled pursuant to R2 recycling standards.

Durham County Social Services Director, Michael Becketts recommended Durham County’s newest technology partner, Kramden Institute, Inc. Kramden Institute offers programs that encompass free computers for students in grades 3-12 and classes for anyone ages 8 and up in basic computer literacy to advanced programming.

Kramden Institute also engages with Tech Community Partners and Tech Equipment Partners. The Tech Community Partners program is specifically for non-student populations. Clients receiving services from a list of non-profit agencies are eligible to participate and obtain a reduced cost desktop or laptop with a preinstalled OS and other software as a Community Partner.

 “The equipment donated by Durham County has allowed us to bridge the digital divide both in Durham and across the state of North Carolina. In Durham County in 2015 alone Kramden awarded 560 desktops to students without a home computer and provided 454 desktops and laptops to Durham County based non-profit organizations, churches, and charter schools.We look forward to a continuing partnership and the great things we can do together including expanding the pilot project with NCCU.”
     – Jason Ricker, Director of Technical Operations, Kramden Institute, Inc.

On February 26th, 2016 Kramden Institute provided 100 laptops (91 from Durham County) to North Carolina Central University students as part of an initiative to support successful degree completion.

Durham County Information Services & Technology is proud to have the opportunity to give back where possible. These programs would not have reached this level of success if not for our partners. It is Durham County’s hope these programs will have a positive impact for Durham County’s citizens and an influence for years to come.

Original article can be found here

Meet a Computer Recipient – Gabrielle from NCCU

Since our founding in 2003, Kramden has awarded more than 23,000 computers across North Carolina through our three hardware programs. This has only been possible through the generosity of our supporters and the tireless efforts of our amazing volunteers. As a way of saying ‘Thank You’, we will be sharing the stories of some of the individuals who have been awarded by Kramden.

IMG_0198 (1) (2)

Gabrielle* is a Senior at North Carolina Central University studying criminal justice. Growing up, she did not have access to a home computer and would go to the school or local library to complete assignments for school. She continued this routine for her first three years of college, crossing campus every day to use computers in the NCCU library.

In February, Gabrielle and 100 other students taking online classes at NCCU received laptop computers through a partnership between the university and Kramden. Having her own computer for the first time, she told us how much she enjoys the ability to work on school assignments from her apartment rather than trekking across campus.  She now uses the extra time to work on her crafts and wants to learn how to build websites so that she can sell her work online in the future.


*Name changed to protect privacy

Kramden Awards Laptops to NCCU Students


North Carolina Central University (NCCU) has partnered with the University of North Carolina General Administration and Kramden Institute in an innovative technology partnership that provides selected distance-education and online-degree-seeking students with free refurbished laptops from Durham County Government.

The NCCU Division of Extended Studies selected 100 degree-seeking students currently enrolled in distance-education classes. Along with laptops, students are eligible to receive tech support from the NCCU Information Technology Services Help Desk as long as they are enrolled at the university.

“I’m thrilled to have the resources needed to take advantage of the online classes provided at NCCU – the flexibility of online classes are very helpful,” said Brad Knutson, a freshman criminal justice student from Youngsville, N.C.

“We are excited about the partnership with University of North Carolina General Administration and Kramden Institute,” said Kimberly Phifer-McGhee, director of NCCU Division of Extended Studies. “Receiving a free laptop is a great incentive to our students enrolled in online education programs.”

Recipient selection targeted students who met the following criteria: currently enrolled in distance-education classes, good academic standing and completion of an online application with an essay.


“With nearly 400 online degree and certificate programs and over 113,000 students taking online courses last year, the University of North Carolina System is a national leader in online higher education. But for online programs to truly expand access, we need to make sure our students have the equipment and bandwidth to connect,” said Matthew Rascoff, vice president for the Office of Learning Technology and Innovation for the University of North Carolina system.

Rascoff developed the partnership between NCCU and Kramden Institute, a non-profit organization in Research Triangle Park that refurbishes donated computers at low- or no-cost, to bridge the digital divide.

“We are really excited for this step in a new direction for Kramden – this is one of our first partnerships with a university,” said Jason Ricker, Kramden Institute’s director of technical operations. “We are happy to work with NCCU. This will be a great help to students enrolled in online classes.”

“By providing laptops to needy students taking online courses, in partnership with our partners at the Kramden Institute, we are taking a step forward in widening access to excellent higher education opportunities at North Carolina Central University,” Rascoff said.

Original article can be found here

Technology and learning in lower-income families


From The Rocky Mount Telegram

Rocky Mount Middle School worked with the Kramden Institute of Durham to give home computers to 48 students on Feb. 4. Kramden Institute is an organization that seeks to provide technology tools and training in order to bridge the digital divide.

Through the Kramden Tech Scholars program, the institute donates computers to students in grades 3-12 who do not have a home computer.

Students are nominated by educators to receive the home computer. The students who receive computers must attend a training session at their school to learn how to operate the computer. Students must also have a parent or guardian take the computer home for them.

There is no cost to the student or their families to receive a computer, and Rocky Mount Middle School only had to pay $250 in shipping costs to have all of the computers shipped from Durham to Rocky Mount.

The Rocky Mount Middle Parent-Teacher-Student Organization covered the cost of shipping.

“The students were instructed today on how to operate their new system,” said Principal Roderick M. Tillery. “Parents were able to take the computers home as an opportunity to increase their digital citizenship,” Tillery stated. “We are able to change the lives of our students through this opportunity,” he added.

Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Shelton Jefferies thanked the Kramden Institute for their partnership and explained the importance of the program.

“We know that we are raising a generation of children that are the absolute brightest that we have ever seen. Making sure they have the tools that they need for 21st Century skills is critical. We would like to thank the Kramden Institute for helping us provide this to our students,” Dr. Jefferies said.

Check out the original article here.



Technology and learning in lower-income families

Opportunity for All report cover

In a recent study, Victoria Rideout and Vikki Katz looked at computer usage and internet adoption by low-income families across the country. Their findings highlight the disparities in access to computer technology and affordable, high-speed internet access at home. 23% of families living at or below the median income level ($64,000 for a family with 1 or more children under 18) only have access to the internet through mobile devices. This number jumps to 33% for families below the poverty level. For those families that do have access to home internet, nearly half report that the service is too-slow or unreliable. Families surveyed for this report indicated that the main reason that they do not own a computer and/or have access to broadband internet is the cost.

The report also looks at what families in low-income households use the internet for. Adults with home internet access use it for a variety of activities including online banking, shopping, connecting with friends and family, reading the news, and applying for jobs. However, families with mobile-only access generally only use the internet to connect with family and friends, missing out on many of the resources available to them. For students a similar pattern emerged. Those with home internet access report much higher rates of internet usage for homework, online learning, and engaging in creative activities than their peers with mobile-only access.

Check out the full report here.

Rideout, V. J. & Katz, V.S. (2016). Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in lower-income families. A report of the Families and Media Project. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.


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.




Kramden Institute bridges digital divide with refurbished computers

Reposted from


Kramden Institute in Durham is dedicated to ensuring that every child in North Carolina has access to technology. Their mission is to provide technology, tools, and training to bridge the digital divide. They collect, refurbish, and present computers to families without computers in their homes.

Kramden’s genesis came as a result of a father and son project that began in 2003. The idea came from Ned Dibner, a middle school student who suggested to his father Mark Dibner that they refurbish old computers and give them to middle school honor roll students in Durham, North Carolina. Kramden’s name comes from “Mark” and “Ned” spelled backwards.

According to their website, Kramden’s impact has been a boon to the students and families across the state, and they’ve awarded more than 19,000 computers to students across 71 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The group partners with schools, non-profits, and military aid organizations, and they estimate that more than 70,000 people have been positively affected by the program’s computers.

Ken VanDine and his daughter Ashlyn volunteer at Kramden Institute. Ken works as a software engineer for Canonical and his daughter is a Girl Scout working on her Girl Scout Silver Award. Father and daughter are passionate about helping those less fortunate to succeed. That’s the open source ethos, and the focus of the Silver Award, which helped inspired Ashlyn to volunteer at Kramden.

Ashlyn scrapping materials

PCs that aren’t suitable to be refurbished are scrapped, and all proceeds go toward supporting Kramden.

Recently I spoke with Ken about how he got involved in open source, and the work he and his daughter are doing with Kramden Institute. “Not every child has access to a computer, or the resources they need to learn to use technology effectively as they grow,” Ken explains. “She feels it’s important for all children to have access to technology—providing a child with a computer and the resources to learn can change a child’s life forever.”

As a child, he had more fun taking his toys apart and putting them back together than actually playing with them. “I got started in open source mostly out of my life-long need to know how things work,” he says. This curiosity continued when he started using his own computer, and he quickly became bored with what the various components did and how they worked together. He was much more curious about the software.

“It was early 1993; my ISP provided shell access to a Unix server for email, gopher, etc. I very quickly found myself spending most of my time logged into that server rather than using Windows apps on my PC,” he says. “I actually called my ISP to chat about what they were running, and a very nice tech there explained the setup and also mentioned this ‘new Linux thing,’ which could be downloaded for free.”

Ken saw that, compared to the price tag of their Solaris systems, a Linux system would be an affordable way to learn about Unix. “I very quickly started installing Slackware from like 40 floppy disks, and never looked back,” he says. He loved learning how the operating system and user space tools worked. “Before long I found myself downloading source code to twiddle with the code,” he adds. “This is not only how I got involved in open source, but discovered my own passion for coding.”

Ken’s love of programming eventually led to a job at Canonical, and then he learned about the Kramden Institute. “At first I was just excited about what they do for so many children,” he says. “It’s truly an amazing organization. After hearing about Kramden, I very quickly signed up to work a Wednesday work night, which was really a blast. Wednesday evening at Kramden is an event to remember. They are incredibly well organized and almost always have a full house. It’s a community of folks that want to help these children; I just fit right in.”

Ken testing monitors

Ken VanDine doing LCD testing.

Kramden’s Tech Scholars program helps students in grades 3-12 who are without a working computer in their homes. Kramden relies on principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers to channel deserving students to them. Kramden Institute offers free technical support to students as long as they are enrolled in school.

Although their primary mission is to help students, Kramden’s Tech Community Partners program is designed to assist other deserving populations being served by nonprofit entities. These computers are available at nominal fees of $50 for a desktop and $100 for a laptop. Like all Kramden computers, they come equipped with Ubermix, a Linux-based system includes LibreOffice, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and dozens of open source programs, such as:

Kramden Institute is staffed by a dedicated team of professionals who have extensive backgrounds with nonprofits and a passion for their work. The core team is assisted by more than 40 volunteers and Kramden Institute’s Board of Directors.

Kramden relies on donations to sustain this incredible social enterprise. Kramden accepts donations from individuals and from businesses. If you have surplus computer equipment, there’s a good chance that Kramden can put it to use.Donating equipment could be tax deductible, and your contribution can help Kramden beneficiaries in North Carolina communities.

Currently the Kramden Institute is raising money to purchase 10 Raspberry Pi computers. Ken says that, along with an intro to programming class, they’ll be hosting a monthly coding activity similar to Code Club or CoderDojo. Many coding clubs expect children to bring their own laptops to participate, but Kramden Institute wants to provide access to such events for children who might not have their own computers, so they’ll be providing workstations in the Kramden classroom. “The Raspberry Pi is an amazing device for children to learn with, and really inspire them to learn to code,” Ken says. “We’ll provide Raspberry Pi devices for the children to use during these events.”

Ken notes that there are many children whose families do not have computers, so they do not grow up with the modern technologies many of us take for granted. “Imagine a middle school child not having access to online resources to do their homework or complete a school project,” Ken says. “This puts that child at a huge disadvantage. Going forward, the life decisions that child makes will likely differ.”

Ken says that children of today will shape technology of the future, but, because not all children will have the resources they need, their future potential will be limited. “All children should have exposure to technology and even some programming,” he says. “Even if the child never decides to become a software engineer, they will have learned valuable problem-solving skills, as well as have a better understanding of how applications are written, which will help them learn to use other applications in the future.”

Thanks to the vision of Mark and Ned Dibner, and the countless staff members and volunteers who are animated by their vision of a more inclusive digital culture, Kramden is providing the helping hand that ensures that no one is left behind. To learn more or to volunteer, visit


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