Closing the digital divide for underprivileged communities is what we’re all about here at Tech Exchange. True economic empowerment for all will only be possible when equal access to technology is achieved, and we tackle this many different ways. In addition to our Tech for All services, we provide paid job training through internships, that are funded by an assortment of programs. As a result our interns are able to go on to employment with various tech-focused companies. Allow us to introduce you to one such intern, Aaron Chanthavong.
Currently, Aaron is Tech Exchange’s program coordinator, but he started out just like our other interns: refurbishing desktops and laptops, cleaning dirty monitors, wrapping endless feet of cable, and helping community members at weekend pop-up events. Over time, his drive and resourcefulness made him a natural hire for the organization. He initiated a social enterprise partnership between Tech Exchange and eBay that became our very first online revenue stream source. Not only are we bringing in about $10k in monthly revenue as a result, we are able to sell accessories and find use for excess gadgets that would otherwise had gone to e-waste. Additionally, Aaron oversees current interns, trains them on the eBay program, and provides tech support and distributes computers at our Tech Hub. In a nutshell, Aaron is the kind of success story that we’re proud to have a hand in making happen. He is especially exceptional, considering the path that brought him to our door.
Coming from a background and family that could have benefitted from our Tech for All services, Aaron grew up without having access to a computer in the home. He enjoyed learning all he could in computer class in junior high, yet staying on after school to further enrich himself was not at option: because of how dangerous the neighborhood was, his mother mandated that he go directly home after the final bell. And as a result of a bad decision he made in the seventh grade, he fell in with the wrong crowd, was expelled, and resorted to illegal means of making money. However, the money that he made, he used on all the hardware he had missed out on as a child; gaming systems, laptops, phones, and more. After realizing that who he thought of as “friends” were anything but, he decided to enroll in a job training program with Civicorps (the program which also funded his internship). Ten months of education, coupled with our internship program, has granted Aaron a true career where he has the freedom of using his passion to enrich not only himself, but others in the community.
This is what we strive to do, as we fulfill our mission of closing the digital divide through education and economic empowerment. Over the past several years, we’ve provided our interns with hands-on education in hardware, giving them real-world skills to troubleshoot, diagnose, repair, upgrade, and replace machines. Our interns are coached on providing service to the community, communicating with staff, and as a result, they leave our program not just primed for greater opportunity, but also for being an agent of change. When asked if he sees himself as an activist, Aaron replied:
“I recently became an activist by supporting the underrepresented and community college students by finding different opportunities that can help bridge students and tech companies. It started after my English class in college, my instructor Professor Falco had really opened my mind up with the different topic she taught plus how compassionate she was towards students. She inspired me to do better for the communities I grew up in.”
Tech Exchange as a company would be remiss if our focus on addressing economic empowerment and closing the digital divide were only through providing hardware and workshops. We’ve got to make sure that the underserved and underrepresented are able to be a part of the workforce of the future. We’ve got to start locally. We have grand plans on expanding our internship program so that we can expand our reach. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media so that you’re part of the first to know about deadlines and updates.
Photo credit: Chrystal Irene